‘Outlander’ effect boosts visitor numbers

The “Outlander effect”, renewed tourist focus on Dundee ahead of the opening of the V&A, and the birth of a polar bear cub in the Highlands, all helped push visitor numbers to Scotland’s attractions higher for the fifth year in a row.

Outlander was filmed across Scotland, including in Glasgow. Picture: John Devlin

The two top sites – the National Museum of Scotland and Edinburgh Castle – each attracted more than two million visits, only the second time any visitor attraction in Scotland has surpassed the two million milestone, according to the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA).

Analysis of statistics submitted by 232 of the organisation’s member sites for its annual Visitor Trends Report, confirms that 30.3 million visits were made to those sites in Scotland in 2018 – a rise of 0.1 per cent over 2017 figures. The increase comes on top of a 9.7 per cent jump in 2017, which itself followed a 6 per cent rise in 2016.

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Gordon Morrison, chief executive of ASVA, which has more than 480 members, said: “Although reporting only a modest increase in visitor figures of 0.1 per cent, it should be remembered that 2017 was something of a stellar year. To be reporting even a modest increase in 2018 visitor figures is therefore a great achievement for the industry.”

Overall, some 59 per cent of all visits were made to attractions that featured in the top 20 list, with ten of the top 20 attractions situated in Edinburgh. Dundee attractions including Discovery Point, which saw a 42 per cent uplift in visitor numbers, also fared well, boosted by interest surrounding the new V&A museum, which opened in September, the ASVA said.

Another area of Scotland which fared well in 2018 was the Highlands. RZSS Highland Wildlife Park near Aviemore enjoyed a major uplift in visitor numbers of 68 per cent, driven in part by the birth of Hamish, the first polar bear cub to be born in the UK for 25 years, while the prehistoric archaeological site of Jarlshof in Shetland recorded a 41 per cent increase in numbers.

Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland, said: “Visitor attractions are a hugely popular and valuable part of Scotland’s world-famous tourism offering, allowing visitors to explore our rich history, vibrant culture, famous heritage and stunning natural environment in more detail.

“A growth in visits of any size is a welcome achievement and something we hope will continue. The arrival of V&A Dundee, as well as the increasing interest in set-jetting, thanks to TV series like Outlander or films such as Outlaw King, have only strengthened Scotland’s appeal, and with the opening of Moat Brae in Dumfries and the redevelopment of Aberdeen Art Gallery taking place this year, there is plenty to look forward to in 2019.”

The “Outlander effect” continued to benefit many sites featuring in the cult TV series, as well as others with Jacobite connections, with large increases in visitor numbers recorded at attractions including Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre, Glasgow Cathedral, Blackness Castle and Aberdour Castle.