Scottish tourism numbers drop four per cent

Tourists and holidaymakers in Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow

Tourists and holidaymakers in Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow

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THE number of foreign tourists visiting Scotland increased in the first half of 2014 – but the more lucrative domestic market saw a slump in visitors, according to new figures.

Scotland’s national tourism agency has revealed an overall increase of less than 1 per cent in visitor numbers between January and June.

A 16.2 per cent increase in overseas visitors was recorded compared to the equivalent period in 2013, while there was a 3.9 per cent drop in UK holidaymakers taking staycations over the same six months.

Spending from UK visitors, including those based in Scotland, was also down 1.2 per cent in the first half of the year, while spending from foreign visitors was down 7.3 per cent, despite them coming in bigger numbers.

The figures – drawn from the UK Office of National Statistics and the Great British Tourism Survey – show overall spending was down 3.3 per cent between January and June.

This was despite a multi-million pound “Homecoming” campaign launched on the back of Scotland’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup in the second half of the year.

A huge boost had also been expected from major events like the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, the opening of The Kelpies, the giant sculptures of horses’ heads in Falkirk, and the first ever national celebration of malt whisky.

VisitScotland chiefs blamed the impact of the World Cup football tournament in June for the drop in domestic visitors.

There is also a trend among UK holidaymakers taking bigger trips overseas to take advantage of new direct flight routes.

However the tourist organisation insisted its Homecoming campaign had played an impact in attracting more overseas visitors, along with extra interest from golf fans ahead of the Ryder Cup being staged at Gleneagles last month and credited new air routes over the last two years with the extra interest in holidaying in Scotland.

Malcolm Roughead, Visit-Scotland’s chief executive, said: “Homecoming Scotland has had a significant impact on tourism. With record attendances at hundreds of events across the country, we have been able to make a concerted effort to reach out to the diaspora and the many visitors overseas who feel they have a connection to Scotland through ancestry, history and culture.

“This can be seen specifically with the huge rise in North American guests, one of our strongest ancestral markets. From Bannockburn Live to Whisky Month, visitors turned out in their thousands and it has been a pleasure and an honour to welcome them all.”

Since 2012, development efforts have delivered over 80 new routes to Scottish airports. Exciting new routes in 2014 include Chicago, Philadelphia and Doha, with more announced for 2015. In the last year alone, major inbound routes will have delivered literally hundreds of thousands of additional seats bringing visitors to Scotland.

“This year has taken Scotland’s profile and reputation to great heights and we are determined to make the most of this for the future.”

Scottish tourism minister Fergus Ewing said: “People from across the globe with an affinity to Scotland have also come in huge numbers to celebrate their ancestral links and heritage.

“Despite operating in a challenging environment, illustrated by a decline in domestic visitors, it is encouraging to see that spending levels are being maintained in the domestic market in Scotland.

“The people at Scottish tourism’s frontline, the staff in our hotels, cafés, restaurants and tourist attractions, are delivering results.”

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