It seemed to me that this summer, a high percentage of the visitors to the hotel where I work have been from overseas, with the majority being from places like Germany, France and the USA. I wondered why people have chosen to come to Scotland on holiday.
The first customer I asked was a gentleman from the Netherlands who revealed that he had always wanted to come to Scotland and now finally had! His kids were of an age where he was able to bring them, and they did not like beach holidays. He had read about 100 books on Scotland and seemed fascinated with the whole clan culture. They were to visit Glencoe that day. This demonstrated to me the strong brand that Scotland possesses as a country and as a destination.
The Scottish tourism industry
Will 2022 tourism levels match the pre-Covid levels of 2019? That remains to be seen, but what is the makeup of Scottish tourism and how much is international tourism a part of it?
2019 was the best year for tourism in the decade from 2009 and business was booming across most tourism sectors. If you look at overnight stays for that year, as opposed to just visits, then you can compare the number of nights stayed by Scottish visitors, visitors from the rest of the UK and International visitors:
|Country of Residence||Number of Nights (millions)|
|Rest of UK||25|
The spend for UK overnight visitors was £3.3bn while the international visitors contributed £2.5bn to our economy. Of the international visitors, VisitScotland statistics show that in 2019, 61% were straightforward holidays, 25% of visits were to family and friends, and 11% were for business .
The USA, as a single country, tops the visitor charts for number of international visitors based on number of nights stayed, while visitors from countries across the European continent make up around 52% of visitors to Scotland from overseas. The data can be seen in the table below:
|Country of Origin||Number of Nights (millions)||Percentage|
|Rest of World||10.7||39%|
The top places I hear the visitors planning to visit include the Isle of Skye, the North Coast 500 route, Loch Lomond, Stirling Castle, Inverness, Glasgow, Edinburgh and many are walking the West Highland Way. Visitors are open to new ideas of where to visit and they definitely browse the tourist information leaflets.
I suspect Scotland needs to do more to promote the lesser-known areas of Scotland such as Argyll or Dumfries and Galloway, and share the tourism around a little?
A glowing review
While working in the hotel, we have numerous positive interactions with the overseas visitors and these must leave a lasting impression. Sometimes children are perhaps a little wary about trying out a foreign language but if I tell them I am learning their language then we can start to communicate and it can be fun. And sometimes it’s a necessity! I now know how to describe fried eggs in French (oeufs du plat) or in German (spiegelei)!
A review of our hotel from an American customer said “what a difference a smile makes”. They felt the staff had done so much for the tourist industry in Scotland. What a compliment!
Clearly for the Scottish economy, and the wider impression Scotland makes in the world, it is a positive thing to ensure that tourists are happy and that staff and businesses are supported. Spending by tourists contributes 5% of Scottish gross domestic product (GDP) and accounts for 8.5% of employment in the country.
Recent holdups at Dover, the Eurotunnel and in airports are not a good way for UK people to start a holiday or for visitors to this country to end their holidays. Extra checks on passports due to Brexit appear to be the cause. Many of Scotland’s tourists have to travel via routes such as Dover-Calais to keep costs down.
The impact of Covid-19
Some businesses are still struggling financially after the pandemic and it can be difficult to recruit staff, particularly since Brexit. The loss of freedom of movement has decimated the numbers of young Europeans who would typically come across to do a summer season, particularly in some of the more remote hotels and restaurants. Inflation of energy, food costs and wages costs are eroding profit margins and customers have less spending power. Hospitality businesses had asked for a continuation of the cut to VAT that the UK chancellor at the time, Rishi Sunak, had instigated in July 2020. However, the rate reverted to 20% from 1 April 2022.
A recent sale in Glasgow of one of the most iconic restaurants to a large pub chain does not bode well for smaller, independent businesses.
Tourism is a devolved matter, and the Scottish Government supports businesses through, for example, its sponsorship of our national tourism organisation VisitScotland. VisitScotland state that their main aim is to give Scotland a place in the global marketplace to benefit the whole of Scotland. However, Scottish tourism is clearly also affected by UK Government decisions with regards to the reserved powers which include immigration and border control issues. Fiscal, economic and monetary policy are all reserved to the UK parliament, hence the VAT rise. Energy price hikes are also due in large part to UK government.
As we continue through the summer months, let’s hope that both governments continue to recognise the importance of these businesses and their workers, and support Scottish tourism as we strive to get back to pre-pandemic levels.
As ideological battles and power struggles consume time in Westminster and Holyrood, is ‘Brand Scotland’ in safe hands?
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