Homecoming hailed as Scots venues celebrate bumper year

THE Homecoming campaign helped deliver a bumper year for Scotland's tourism attractions, experts said last night.

Despite the economic downturn, figures reveal a 3.6 per cent increase in the number of visits to attractions across the country in the first ten months of the year.

More British people holidaying in the UK, coupled with the marketing campaign surrounding Homecoming, helped to keep numbers up.

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According to the Visitor Attraction Barometer – a monthly review of attractions' performance data – between January and October this year, 31,637,230 people visited one of 502 attractions in Scotland, compared with 30,524,815 for the previous year.

Churches and cathedrals saw the greatest increase, 10.6 per cent up on the previous year, while distilleries saw a 9 per cent rise.

Museums and art galleries continued to be the most popular draw.

Prof John Lennon, chairman of Glasgow Caledonian University's Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism Business Development, who carried out the research, said: "My view on Homecoming is that for a very tough year we had a campaign in the stocks, ready to roll out; nobody else in Europe had that," he said. "This meant we had logos and strategies in place.

"Homecoming has also done the business in the databases it has built up of ethnic Scots, those with roots here, who have an interest in coming here in the future. That was a very smart move."

He said the trend for people staying in the UK for their holidays this year had also helped.

"What you have with the Eurozone is a prohibitively expensive zone in the key markets that the British go to: Italy, France and Spain. Visitor numbers to those three are down.

"Further evidence is the cutback in budget flights – Ryanair and easyJet have been slashing routes because the loading on the planes has been so low."

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Prof Lennon said that the relatively weak pound against the Euro also made Scotland an attractive option for tourists travelling from Europe.

Among those areas to benefit most from the increase in tourism were the Outer Hebrides and the Scottish Borders, which experienced rises of 10 and 14.4 per cent respectively. However, Perthshire and the Argyll, Loch Lomond and Forth Valley area saw small respective falls of 3.4 per cent and 3.1 in their visitor numbers.

According to Prof Lennon, the Scottish Borders increase came from "cogent, targeted marketing" aimed at English tourists travelling north, while the Outer Hebrides had benefited from the Scottish Government's Homecoming campaign.

VisitScotland's chief executive Philip Riddle said that the results had exceeded expectations.

"These figures show the value of partnership working and the importance of pulling together to get tourism back on track," he said.

"Our seasonal marketing drives, such as Winter White and the summer's Perfect Day campaign, as well as partner activity around Doors Open Days, harness the support of businesses to encourage visitors to make the most of the attractions Scotland has to offer."

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