Scotland is looking to Pixar, golf and the Commonwealth Games to consolidate a boost in the country’s tourism industry, with optimism in the sector at its highest level for four years.
Figures show that staycationers have helped the domestic tourism market to grow by 10%, with a 20% increase in the amount of money they spend.
Tourism has been at the forefront of a slight improvement in economic activity across Scottish business between January and March, according to a survey by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce. Tourism businesses are the most confident they have been since the start of the economic downturn, but there is a clear rural and urban split with high fuel and transport costs hampering growth in the countryside.
Officials are now looking to the release later this year of Disney Pixar’s animated Scottish feature Brave, which they hope will have a similar effect on the travel trade as Braveheart, the 1995 Mel Gibson epic on the life of William Wallace that enraged historians and entranced a new generation of holidaymakers. Following the release of the Gibson film, 20% of US tourists said it was the reason for their visit to Scotland, and visitor numbers to the Wallace Monument near Stirling soared from 30,000 to 200,000 a year.
Brave features the voices of Kelly Macdonald, Billy Conolly and Emma Thompson, and Scotland is also pinning hopes on the Ryder Cup and the Commonwealth Games, both in 2014.
Mike Cantlay, the chairman of VisitScotland, said: “The optimistic outlook for the year ahead is particularly welcome as we head into the traditionally busier summer months … the next three years being unprecedented milestones for both urban and rural businesses and we expect they will shape the industry for many years to come.”
There has been some criticism of VisitScotland for setting so much store by an animated film, but Mark Gallagher, co-chairman of the Greater Glasgow Hotels Association, said it was a great opportunity for Scotland to showcase what it could offer as a tourist destination.
“We have got to play to the strengths of the country,” he said. “VisitScotland are a marketing agency and they have got to hang their hat on Brave and the Ryder Cup and the Commonwealth Games and all these great things we have managed to get for the country. We need to shout about it.”
Gallagher said the slight growth in the tourism sector was encouraging and driven by the domestic market. Of all visitors to Glasgow, between 85% and 90% are from the UK, up about 10% on five years ago. “Generally tourism is on the rise, and generally, yes, I would agree that staycations seem to be more prevalent than before.”
Fierce competition between businesses and the rise of discount sites, however, continue to affect revenue, he said.
The Scottish Chambers of Commerce study found that businesses had seen a better start to 2012 compared with the same period last year, led by more positive indicators in tourism and manufacturing. Businesses were now more confident as to the year ahead, but confidence varied between sectors and Scottish regions.
Garry Clark, head of policy and public affairs at the chambers, said: “Across all sectors, except retail, the trends in orders and sales are stronger than at the same time last year and out-turns are generally ahead of expectations at the end of 2011.
He added: “Tourism businesses reported a better than anticipated first quarter and expectations for the year ahead are at their highest levels for four years. Importantly, the return to a positive trend in daily rates means that the hospitality industry may be becoming less reliant on widespread discounting to fill accommodation. However, looking behind the tourism data reveals differences between urban and rural businesses, with concerns over the cost of transport, including ferry travel, being widely cited by rural and island businesses and this could have a material effect on their ability to attract visitors over the year ahead.”
The Scottish tourism minister, Fergus Ewing, who is in America as part of Scotland Week, said the figures from the Office for National Statistics and the Great Britain Tourism Survey which showed a 10% rise in domestic visitors, a 15% rise in visitors from North America, and a 9% rise in overnight visitors was a promising start to 2012.
“These encouraging figures show just how resilient Scottish tourism is,” he said. “The staycation market is continuing to boost visitor numbers and the average spend has carried on rising. We will continuing to invest in this market, and in this Year of Creative Scotland will see many more opportunities to do so.”