FEWER overseas tourists are visiting Scotland – but they are spending much more money when they do visit, new figures have revealed.
The number of overnight stays fell from 325,000 in the first three months of last year to 297,000 over the same period this year, a decrease of about 8 per cent, according to official data from VisitScotland.
However, at the same time, spending increased by 21 per cent, from £148 million to £180m – driven by higher expenditure from holidaymakers visiting from European countries.
Mike Cantlay, chairman of the tourism agency, said: “2012 was unquestionably a challenging year for Scottish tourism, but what an incredible start we have made to 2013, with increases in domestic visits and spend, and a significant increase in overseas expenditure.
“The industry is back on the front foot, capitalising on the cold spring in the north, for example, with a remarkable prolonged winter sports season.”
Next year will bring new opportunities, such as the Commonwealth Games, Ryder Cup and Homecoming celebration.
“We must keep up the momentum that has been achieved already in 2013, building on these strong visitor numbers, increasing expenditure and ensuring that we remain resilient in an uncertain global economic climate,” he added.
The agency combined the official statistics with its own survey of UK domestic tourism, suggesting an overall increase. Together, the figures suggest visits increased by seven per cent and spending grew by 5.9 per cent.
The official figures showed a drop in visitors from North America and other European countries when comparing the first three months of this year with last year.
North American overnight stays fell from 39,000 to 34,000 while European visits fell from 241,000 to 206,000.
Spending by North American visitors fell from £28m to £20m but increased among European visitors from £84m to £100m.
The overall spending total was further boosted by visitors from other continents who spent £36m at the start of last year and £61m at the start of this year.
The number of visitors from other continents also increased this year, from 44,000 to 57,000.
Tourism minister Fergus Ewing said: “While 2012 was a very challenging time for our tourism economy, visitors from markets such as India, Australia and China continue to grow. These figures show the demand from long-haul tourists for holidaying in Scotland.
“There are also encouraging signs for the future from Europe and the UK for the start of this year.
“Last year, the weather played a part in deterring domestic visitors, and the Olympic Games kept people occupied for three weeks during the summer season.
“The rises in expenditure suggest that Scotland is thought of as a destination offering quality experiences and visitors are prepared to spend their money in our hotels, tourism attractions and restaurants as a result.”
New air routes, such as direct links from Canada, will help “open up our country”, he said.
An Air Canada flight between Edinburgh and Toronto’s Pearson International Airport re-launched after an eight-year gap earlier this week.