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VisitScotland Chief Executive hails “unparalleled growth” in tourism from North America

Press release   •   Jan 19, 2017 10:23 GMT

The Atholl Highlanders Parade held annually in May at Blair Castle, home of Europe's only legal private army, Blair Atholl, Perthshire Picture Credit : Paul Tomkins / VisitScotland

VisitScotland Chief Executive, Malcolm Roughead, responds to the release of the quarterly (Q3 2016) International Passenger Survey (IPS) tourism statistics by the UK Office of National Statistics (ONS). He said:

It is remarkable to see such unparalleled growth in the North American market in both visits and spend. Of course, a favourable exchange rate has played its part, but a focus on airline capacity and connectivity – with around 90,000 extra seats on services from North America in 2016 - alongside a concentrated marketing approach has proved a real formula for success.

“It is disappointing to see a slight dip in European visits from core markets such as France and Germany, but with uncertainty over safety and security during 2016 in these countries, it is perhaps understandable. However, it’s interesting to see a significant rise of 48% from our Eastern European markets.

Tourism is more than a holiday experience - it creates jobs and sustains communities in every corner of Scotland all year round. Thanks to the hard work of tourism businesses across the country, we are on track to reach the industry’s Tourism Scotland 2020 target to generate economic growth.

VisitScotland’s first ever global campaign – the Spirit of Scotland – launched in February 2016, has been a resounding success with the biggest ever engagement across all our digital channels. In 2017, we are working hard to build on that strong foundation and create and invest in more innovative projects, events and activities to inspire people all over the world to put Scotland at the top of their must-see list. With the Rough Guide recommending Scotland as a top place to visit in 2017, and a country-wide celebration of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, we are starting in a very strong place.”

Q3 Statistics for overseas visitors to Scotland

Quarter 3 only (Jul – Sep 2016)
Overseas visits have increased: 4.5%
Overseas spend has increased: 13.9%

Year to date (Jan – Sep 2016)

Overseas visits have increased: 3.5%
Overseas spend has increased: 11.8%

Rolling year (Oct 2015 – Sep 2016)
Overseas visits have increased: 0.3%
Overseas spend has increased: 6.3%

Q3 Overseas Analysis

Visitors from North America increased 36% in trips and 57% in expenditure during Q3 2016 against the same period in 2015. This may be attributed to more affordable rates against the Pound to these markets.

Q3/2016 is the largest volume of trips by North American Visitors since 2006.

An increase in airline capacity between Scotland and North America may have also had an impact. Airlines such as Delta Air Lines, Icelandair, Air Canada Rouge, Air Transit and WOW contributed a further 90,000 seats throughout 2016.

The majority of overseas visitors came from Europe. Despite numbers from our core markets being down on the same period in 2015, markets such as France and Germany were affected by safety and security concerns. Visitors from these destinations also took more self-drive holidays across Europe during this time, which may have affected travel to Scotland.

EU15 markets also took more holidays to destinations such as Iceland and Scandinavia, which could be seen as direct competitors in terms of product to Scotland.

Travel may have also been affected by the number of international events taking place over the summer period, namely the European Football Championships in France, and the Rio Olympics.

Despite the decrease in core European markets, Other EU nations increased 48.5% against the same period in 2015.

Visitors from outside North America and Europe were also up during Q3 2016 (11%) against the same period in 2015.

The ONS statistics are available at:

The Scottish Government response to the statistics can be found here.

Due to an error in the Great Britain Tourism Survey, domestic tourism figures have not been published. Corrected data will be published by VisitScotland when available at:

Notes to Editors

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  • VisitScotland is Scotland’s national tourism organisation. Its core purpose is to maximise the economic benefit of tourism to Scotland.
  • The organisation’s core objective is to contribute to the Tourism 2020 Strategy ambition of growing tourism revenues by £1 billion by 2020.
  • This will be supported by seven overarching strategies:
    1. Marketing: we will market Scotland and its outstanding assets to visitors from all parts of the world, including the promotion of Scotland to people living in Scotland to visit different parts of the country
    2. Events: we will support the national events strategy and its delivery, and sustain, develop and promote Scotland’s international profile as one of the world’s foremost events destinations
    3. Internationalisation and International Engagement: we will utilise all our platforms to enable Scottish-based tourism businesses to better understand international opportunities and market to a global audience and we will work within One Scotland Partnerships to optimise the potential of Scotland’s Diaspora and our strategic partners at regional, European and global levels
    4. Customer Experience: we will provide information and inspiration to visitors both locally and globally via their preferred medium of choice
    5. Quality and Sustainability: we will provide support and advice to businesses, with the goal of improving the quality and sustainability of the tourism sector in Scotland. We will provide quality assurance to visitors through our Quality Schemes
    6. Inclusive Tourism: we will strive to make tourism in Scotland inclusive and available to all
    7. Working in Partnership: we will listen to and work with the industry, partners and communities to shape our offering and support
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  • The organisation employs 700 people and has offices and VisitScotland Information Centres across Scotland.
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    2017 Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology
  • 2017 is the year to delve into the past and discover Scotland’s fascinating stories through a wide-ranging variety of new and existing activity to drive the nation’s tourism and events sector, boosting tourism across Scotland.
  • The Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology begins on 1 January 2017 and will end on 31 December 2017. It will build on the momentum generated by previous themed years in Scotland including the 2015 Year of Food and Drink, Homecoming Scotland 2014, the Year of Creative and the Year of Natural.
  • The Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology is a Scottish Government initiative being led by VisitScotland, and supported by a variety of partners including Creative Scotland, Scottish Tourism Alliance, Scottish Enterprise, The National Trust for Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Built Environment Forum Scotland, Heritage Lottery Fund, Museums Galleries Scotland and Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland.
  • The Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology is supported by £570,000 of Scottish Government funding.
  • The Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology events fund is managed by EventScotland, part of VisitScotland’s Events Directorate.
  • For more information visit or join the conversation at #HHA2017