While the summer holidays may be drawing to a close, Scotland’s unique natural and cultural offerings still draw visitors from around the world, and the recent sunshine has certainly shown Ayrshire in its best light.
Scotland is more popular than ever. Last year, visits and spending by overseas tourists rose to record levels, with the number of overseas tourists visiting Scotland rising by an astonishing 16.9% to 3.2 million, while expenditure increased by 23% to £2,300 million.
This trend was not, however, reflected across the entirety of the UK, where spending fell by 1%, according to the Office of National Statistics. This leads us to the question: what sets Scotland apart from her UK neighbours? A range of factors made Scotland an attractive place to visit in 2017, including events associated with the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, the Outlander effect, and VisitScotland’s digital campaigns.
The uneven spread of tourism across the UK is also reflected within Scotland itself, with Edinburgh, home to the National Museum of Scotland and Edinburgh Castle which both chalked up more than two million visits apiece in 2017, proving the biggest draw. With, of course, the world’s largest arts and culture festival currently taking place.
Similarly, landmarks featured prominently on screen such as the Glenfinnan Monument to fallen Jacobite clansmen, which saw a 58% increase in visitor numbers last year thanks to its appearance on Outlander and the Glenfinnan Viaduct, made famous by the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films, have proven irresistible to international visitors.
Yet to remain competitive in the ever-expanding global tourism market and ensure all Scottish communities benefit from the jobs and revenue created, we must look at innovative ways to draw visitors to areas of Scotland not usually featured on the traveller’s map.
Domestic and overseas visitors are now more likely to take several short breaks each year rather than one long holiday. This creates potential for many smaller towns and villages.
One innovation that could benefit all Ayrshire communities is the recent growth in ancestral tourism. VisitScotland estimate that 10 million people worldwide are interested in finding out about their Scottish ancestors. While currently only around 200,000 visit each year, ancestral visitors usually stay longer than average, are more likely to visit outwith the peak summer months, visit areas related to their own family history, and have emotional connections to Scotland the encourages return visits.
Unique events and celebrations are also key to both attracting visitors and helping them to spend more, stay longer and come back. This year, Scotland celebrates the Year of Young People with events, activities and ideas which give young people the opportunity to shine, showcase their talents, and create new ways to stand out. Here in North Ayrshire, VisitScotland is promoting family events from highland games, to music festivals, to adventure sports.
Growth in the tourism sector must be inclusive, a principle at the heart of the Ayrshire Growth Deal, and create opportunities that spread prosperity more equally across all our communities.
Alongside key sectors such as aerospace and space, life sciences, and manufacturing, tourism must be at the forefront of growth deal discussions. Supporting 12,700 jobs and generating £171 million a year in Ayrshire & Arran, tourism cannot be an afterthought in plans to create a more dynamic and inclusive Ayrshire economy.
This year’s Visit Scotland campaign - Scotland is Now - is not just about encouraging visitors, stimulating economic growth and positioning Scotland as a bold and progressive country. It is also a call for each of us to enjoy everything that Scotland has to offer
Scotland is Now; let’s make the most of it.