Scotland is reaping the benefits of the growing trend among holidaymakers to take a “staycation” in the UK to help save money.
And with the influx of travellers came a considerable financial boost, and tourist industry revenues rising by £300 million in just nine months.
A report by the Office of National Statistics, which compared the first three financial quarters of 2011 to the same period in 2010, combined with Scottish Government data, has found that 12 million people took a holiday in Scotland, compared to just over 11 million the previous year.
Most of them were either Scots checking out what their own country has to offer or people from other parts of the UK as visits from the domestic market were up by 10%, while tourist spending rose from £3.1bn to £3.4bn.
And, while the eurozone crisis has had a dampening effect on the number of people coming from the continent, the weak pound against the dollar has proved attractive to tourists from North America.
According to the statistics, visitor numbers from the continent were down by 136,000 while the number travelling from the US was up 57,000.
The figures were welcomed by tourist industry chiefs, who said their hard work attracting visitors in difficult economic circumstances had paid off.
Graham Birse, spokesman for Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said: “I think the message here is ‘more of the same, please’. There’s two reasons for this increase. First, we have the success of our airports in attracting low-cost carriers, particularly for short haul flights.
“And, in relative terms, the pound has been weaker on the money markets, meaning it goes further when people take a staycation.
“More than 25,000 jobs depend on tourism, and it’s probably the best-placed industry to help Scotland through the current financial climate.”
There are high hopes that Scotland can continue to capture the imagination of people looking for a holiday in the UK this year and into 2014, when the country will host both the Ryder Cup and the Commonwealth Games.
Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing said the Scottish Government would continue to invest in the staycation sector, as well as reaching out to tourists from abroad.
He said: “The staycation market is continuing to boost visitor numbers and average spend is also rising. An 18% increase in visitors from North America is extremely welcome and evidence this market is continuing to pick-up after a tough time.
“The Scottish Government will work with VisitScotland to ensure our tourism industry is in the best possible shape to make the most of the huge opportunities that are coming our way in the next three years.”
The figures are compiled by analysing surveys of the number of passengers passing through major ports, rail links and airports and combining them with data collected on the number of people from the UK staying overnight at hotels and guests houses in Scotland.
Tourism agency VisitScotland recently launched a new advert to mark the start of a year-long celebration of Scotland’s culture and creativity. The £4m advertising campaign showcases the Year of Creative Scotland 2012, which aims to put the country’s artistic culture in the international spotlight and hopes to attract £90m in tourism revenues.
The government body has also been running a campaign titled Surprise Yourself aimed at attracting domestic travellers to Scotland’s varied attractions, from outdoor pursuits to shopping in the big cities.
Mike Cantlay, chairman of VisitScotland, said: “Our marketing continues to show impressive results with our domestic campaign Surprise Yourself tracking at 42% advertising awareness – the highest for a number of years.
“This has helped to boost the staycation market which is particularly buoyant at the moment and showing real opportunities for growth.
“It’s fantastic to see the North American market showing such a strong recovery but disappointing the eurozone is still very challenging.”
Category: Industry news