Official International Passenger numbers released by the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that Scotland had a greater proportion of holiday visits than any other UK region last year.
Scotland had 3.2 million overnight visits from international travellers last year, down on 2019 by seven percent. With 58% of them classed as holidays, this was still enough to top the UK’s holiday share figures.
1. Numbers down, spending up
While tourist numbers in Scotland were slightly down still after the pandemic, tourist spending for the year was in fact up, by nearly 25%, at a record level of £3.2 billion, with a particularly strong end to the year.
Scottish attractions received 128% more visits during the year. Figures published in March by the UK’s Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA), showed the National Museum of Scotland was up an astonishing 199% year-on-year, to almost 2 million visitors, and claimed ninth place overall for most popular UK visitor attractions.
Visitors said 29% of trips to Scotland last year were in order to see friends or family. Business was the third most popular reason for going to the land of heather and shining rivers.
2. The importance of North America
ALVA’s Director, Bernard Donoghue, pointed out that last year’s lack of visitors from a still-restricted China was a problem for London.
Meanwhile Scotland benefitted from incoming visitors from across the Atlantic. North Americans made up over a quarter of all Scotland’s visitors, making 10% more trips and spending a remarkable 70% more than in pre-COVID times. This large North American spend accounts for 44% of the total tourist spend in 2022.
Malcolm Roughead, VisitScotland’s Chief Executive hailed the return of international visitors, saying it “marked a significant milestone in the recovery of Scotland’s valuable tourism and events industry.”
These visitors stay longer and spend more, helping support jobs and communities right across the country.Malcolm Roughead, VisitScotland’s Chief Executive
3. What next?
This year too promises to be a strong one for the Scottish sector, with the addition of several new air international air routes to caledonian destinations. The country is also preparing for another Edinburgh Festival and the UCI Cycling World Championships to hit Glasgow and elsewhere this summer – events expected to draw visitors in numbers.
Roughhead’s assessment going forward is optimistic: “It is clear that, despite the challenges of recent years, appetite for Scotland is strong. There is a real desire and demand for our world-class offering.”