Experts said that the weak pound, combined with strong marketing overseas, had driven visitor numbers, but warned that the Scottish Government needs to give a strong message that the country is still open after March next year when Britain leaves the European Union.
The figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that in the same period, spending by European visitors jumped by 21 per cent to £1.6 billion compared to £959 million in the previous 12 months. However, the number of visitors from North America fell by nearly 10 per cent.
Across all international markets, there was a 23 per cent increase in overseas overnight visits, with almost 3.6 million visitors choosing Scotland as a destination in the 12 months to the end of June 2018 with spending rising too by eight per cent to almost £2.3 billion.
The number of visitors from Europe rose in the 12 months to June from 1.65 million to 2.3m. The number of visitors from the “EU15” countries - the original member countries before the bloc’s expansion in 2004 and which is comprised mainly of wealthy western European nations, rose by 33 per cent.
John Lennon, professor of tourism at Glasgow Caledonian University, said that Scotland had become far better value for European tourists due to the pound’s falling value.
He said: “It is good news to see this increase. The value proposition has increased by 20 per cent for inbound visitors. What was, for a long time, one of the most expensive visitor destinations has suddenly become good value.”
He said that Visit Scotland’s branding was “very well regarded” internationally, adding that tourists were venturing further afield to visit more parts of Scotland.
He added: “The question is, were these visitors coming because they were not too sure what would happen post March 2019? The job of the Scottish Government is to make it clear that visitors are welcome after Brexit. We do not want any uncertainty that could spook tourists, especially when we have such a healthy demand.”
Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland said: “Tourism is the success story of Scotland’s economy and it is fantastic to see a rise in international visitors. Scotland is about building bridges, connecting places and bringing people together, with tourism at the heart of this.”
Ben Macpherson, Holyrood’s minister for Europe, said: “Scotland’s tourism industry is going from strength to strength and the continued rise in overseas tourists is encouraging. European visitors are flocking to our shores and spending more too, which is a great boost for the economy.”
He added: “Scotland offers an unrivalled and memorable visitor experience for people who choose our country as their holiday destination, and we will continue to warmly welcome all those who choose to visit.”