Despite the 1 per cent fall in foreign visitors, spending from overseas travellers rose by 13 per cent and spend from domestic visitors by 49 per cent.
VisitScotland said the number of domestic tourists was higher than the previous year due to severe storms and flooding which caused major disruption in the same period in 2014.
However, in separate figures for the 12 months from last April to March this year, overall tourism was up by 10 per cent, both by volume and spend – bucking the overall UK trend, which saw the number of tourists fall by 2 per cent. The number of domestic visitors to Scotland in the first quarter rose by 29 per cent. There were 15.7m overseas and domestic visitors to Scotland in the year to the end of March.
VisitScotland chairman Mike Cantlay said: “After the outstanding success of 2014, we are delighted to see that Scottish tourism is continuing to do exceptionally well during what is a very challenging economic time for many countries around the world.”
He added: “The international outlook is complicated, with a direct impact from the poor exchange rate of the euro.
“However, the North American market remains strong after a buoyant 2014 and we continued to see a large rise in the number of these very important visitors who contribute a lucrative amount to Scottish tourism.
“Overall, the statistics are good, and Scotland bucked the UK trend, but this positive first quarter is by no means a fait accompli for the year. We, as an industry, must work hard to ensure we stay ahead of the game.”
The report said that the overall increase in terms of trips and spend was seen across the country. However, the main growth was seen in the cities, although rural regions are also benefiting.
Tourism minister Fergus Ewing said: “These figures are hugely encouraging for the Scottish tourism industry as we continue to outperform Great Britain as a whole. The rise in both visitors and expenditure show that Scotland is a destination that offers quality experiences and visitors are prepared to spend their money in our hotels, tourism attractions and restaurants.”
The figures also showed an increase of visitor numbers from North America of 31 per cent and a rise in expenditure from US and Canadian tourists of 50 per cent, driven by an improvement in the North American economies and low oil price contributing to cheaper flights.
There were 540,000 visitors from North America in 2014 but the majority of overseas tourists – 1,718,000 – were from Europe, mainly EU countries, although VisitScotland said that a weak euro against the pound had depressed tourism from the continent.
Other countries outside Europe and North America accounted for 441,000 visitors.