Soaring numbers of overseas tourists should inspire Scots to visit more of their own country’s highlights, writes Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hylsop.
At this time of year, many of us are considering what positive changes we can make to our lives and are choosing our New Year’s resolutions. This New Year’s Day, I’d like everyone to consider a resolution that will offer incredible experiences, culture and history ... visiting more of Scotland.
Whether it’s a drive, a day trip or weekend away – we all know that, with an umbrella and a waterproof, Scotland has incredible scenery, culture and heritage to offer. From the rising numbers of whisky distilleries opening their doors to the opening of Scotland’s first design museum, the V&A Dundee, Scotland’s visitor attractions are growing in quantity and quality. And with the most recent statistics showing that record numbers of overseas tourists are coming to Scotland, our industry going from strength to strength.
Over the last year, I have seen this success first hand through my visits to the likes of the recently restored Castle Varrich in Sutherland to the fantastic Scottish Dark Sky Observatory in Galloway, and to some of the incredible events that we have hosted like the Mountain Bike World Cup and, of course, the European Championships.
Around 500,000 people experienced the incredible hospitality Glasgow and Scotland have to offer at last year’s European Championships. I was lucky enough to watch some of the excellent sporting and cultural events in the city and it was great to see Glasgow 2018 create a unique partnership with Berlin/Germany and support the development of strong relationships across Europe.
The opening of the world-class V&A Dundee was a wonderful moment for me in 2018. With 500,000 people expected to visit it within its first year of opening, it’s a powerful symbol of Dundee’s new confidence and a major addition to our world-class collection of museums and visitor attractions.
And I was delighted to see the Highlands and Islands as the only UK destination listed in the Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2019 top 10 regions, which is a really positive accolade for the year ahead.
I am excited that Scotland will once again play host to the very best international sporting talent at a number of major events this year. In March, more than 600 athletes from 50 nations will take to the tracks at the Emirates Arena for the 2019 European Indoor Athletics.
While at Gleneagles in September, we will host the Solheim Cup, the biggest and best team event in women’s golf and a highlight of the sporting calendar. I’m sure that the world-class competition on show as Europe’s finest take on their American counterparts will make for an incredible spectacle, inspiring our young people, particularly girls, and once again showcasing Scotland as the perfect stage for major events.
The Solheim Cup ends a full summer of golf, including the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open and Ladies Scottish Open, and will be a key part of an incredible summer for Scottish women’s sport, with our national football team competing in the World Cup in France and our hosting of the 2019 UEFA Women’s Under-19 Championship.
Scotland’s growing screen sector is also opening up opportunities for tourism and exposing Scotland’s natural beauty and heritage to new audiences. We have already seen the benefits of the Outlander effect – with visitor numbers to locations featured in the series increasing significantly. And we would expect this trend to continue with Netflix’s recently released Outlaw King, filmed across 45 different Scottish locations including Craigmillar Castle, Linlithgow Palace and Talisker on Skye, and the new Mary Queen of Scots film set to be released later this month, which was filmed in Glencoe and in Edinburgh.
While increasing visitor numbers is of course welcome, it is important that we have the infrastructure in place to handle the demand of increasing visitors. Our £6 million Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund has been designed to manage growth sustainably, so the services and facilities that visitors and local communities need are provided. I was delighted to announce the first round of funding for the scheme to help support the creation of additional parking at Glenfinnan, and make improvements to facilities at other iconic sights like the Old Man of Storr and Cairngorms National Park. Some local authorities have called on the Scottish Government to give them the powers to introduce a tourism tax to help them meet the pressures of increasing visitors to their area. The Scottish Government has no plans to introduce a tourism tax but we do recognise there is a need to properly consider the wide range of views on this issue. We are currently convening a national discussion to give everyone an opportunity to air their views and have invited contributions and participation from a wide range of groups with an interest in tourism, economic growth and public sector finance, to ensure an informed, evidence-led discussion on this complex issue.
Scotland continues to be an outward-looking and inclusive nation. And a nation that people at home and abroad should want to visit. This is an important message, particularly at this time with the UK’s exit from the EU fast approaching. Clearly Brexit will have profound implications for Scotland as a whole, but I know there are deep concerns in the tourism industry.
Europe currently accounts for seven out of Scotland’s ten key visitor markets – and around 60 per cent of our overseas visitors. And the industry’s workforce is reliant on EU citizens – with around 13 per cent of those working in the sector from the EU.
I am acutely aware of industry concerns around recruitment and retention of EU staff, which will not have been eased by the restrictive policy approach put forward by the UK Government in their Immigration White Paper. The evidence is very clear that our tourism sector would be poorer without the vital skills and experience of EU citizens.
In the meantime, we are continuing to strengthen our ties with our nations in Europe and around the world, by expanding our network of innovation and investment hubs. And last year we launched the Scotland is Now campaign, promoting Scotland under a single, unified, national brand and bringing together combined spending of up to £6 million to promote our country globally.
In these uncertain times and in the face of a number of challenges, it is fantastic to see the on-going success of tourism and the Scottish Government, working with our national tourism organisation VisitScotland, will do all it can to help the industry continue to grow sustainably.
With unrivalled sights, memorable visitor experiences and incredible hidden history let us all make that resolution to experience more of the place we are proud to call home.