Leader comment: Finally, Scotland has some good news to celebrate

Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe have become huge stars since Outlander launched two years ago.
Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe have become huge stars since Outlander launched two years ago.
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Scotland had 3.2 million overseas tourists last year, equivalent to 60 per cent of its population.

In a time of Brexit, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, austerity and an economy that seems eternally peely-wally, it feels like a long time since Scotland had some really good news, something to celebrate.

But finally, we do, with the numbers of tourists flocking to Scotland last year almost appearing to be too good to be true.

There were a staggering 3.2 million overseas visitors to Scotland last year, setting a new all-time record. Just think about that figure – it’s the equivalent of almost 60 per cent of the Scottish population.

And they spent a record £2.3 billion, up by 23 per cent on the previous year, according to the Office for National Statistics, helping to sustain an industry that employs more than 200,000 people.

The popularity of the TV series Outlander is said to be one reason why as people flock to see the castles and glens where the Jacobites and Hanoverians once fought to the death.

But some might suggest a 17 per cent rise in the number of European tourists could be something to do with Scotland’s strong support for Remain in the EU referendum, particularly when the overall figure for the UK remained about the same.

READ MORE: Donald Anderson: How a tourist tax would help Edinburgh stay great

However, while all this is good news for the economy, large numbers of people do bring some challenges. Congestion can be just as big a problem in popular rural areas during the summer as it is in the cities, perhaps even more so given it’s less expected.

So the Scottish Government and local councils need to work hard to make sure tourist hotspots are able to cope with the extra influx of people. For example, if our transport network becomes overloaded, those tourists may decide to go elsewhere and local frustrations may grow. And more work could be done to encourage visitors to travel to less well-kent but equally beautiful parts of the country, which would benefit their local economies and take some of the pressure on the busiest places.

And tourism isn’t only good business for hotels, restaurants and the like. It is also a key part of Scotland’s image on the world stage. A holidaymaker who has a lovely time visiting Edinburgh Castle, wild-swimming in Loch Ness and getting a selfie with the Harry Potter bridge – sorry, the Glenfinnan Viaduct – in the background might decide Scotland would make a great place to live, to be a student or to start a new business.

READ MORE: Alexander McCall Smith: Save Edinburgh from tourism boom