Outdoor attractions fare better as Covid pandemic sees tourist numbers plunge

The coronavirus pandemic has seen the number of people visiting Scotland’s tourist hotspots plunge as visitors make the most of outdoor attractions.

Edinburgh Castle was among the big losers as the number of tourists fell from more than two million in 2019 to 423,866 in 2021, a drop of more than 80%, with Edinburgh Zoo taking the top spot in the paid attraction leader board with 632,122 visitors last year, according to the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA).

The zoo, which saw visitor numbers rise 15% compared to before the pandemic, joins only the Highland Wildlife Park, near Aviemore, to have seen their visitor numbers be higher in 2021 than in 2019 in the top ten list.

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Scotland’s top free attraction was the National Museum of Scotland which had 660,741 visitors in 2021. This was a drop of just over 70% on the 2019 figures, when it attracted almost 1.3 million tourists.

Normally a tourist magnet, Edinburgh Castle saw a massive drop in visitor numbers.

Across Scotland, paid-entry attractions welcomed just over nine million visitors during 2021, compared to over 20 million in 2019, a fall of 55%, while free venues had just over 20.2 million visitors last year compared to 35.5 million in 2019, a drop of just over 43%.

Gordon Morrison, chief executive of ASVA, said, while visitor numbers in 2021 were up on the year before, “the latest figures highlight what a uniquely challenging time the visitor attractions sector, and wider tourism industry, has experienced over the past 12 months”.

Across both Scotland’s free and paid-for attractions overall, visitor numbers were more than 47% down on pre-pandemic levels last year, according to the data compiled by ASVA in conjunction with the Glasgow Caledonian University’s Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism Development.

Mr Morrison said the figures showed “clear evidence that our sector has been hit extremely hard for a considerably extended period of time due to the consequences of the pandemic”.

Attractions like giant panda Yang Guang helped Edinburgh Zoo buck the trend.

He said: “Although we’ve seen some very welcome positive signs that business at a number of attractions is beginning to bounce back, so many of our operators are still in survival mode, and the vast majority, unfortunately, still face a very long road to recovery.”

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