The Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA) announced that visits to its member sites rose dramatically in 2017, the fourth year running that an increase in numbers has been recorded.
Analysis of statistics submitted by 232 of the organisation’s member sites for its annual Visitor Trends Report confirmed that more than 30 million visits were made to those sites in Scotland in 2017, a rise of 9.7% over 2016.
The increase comes on top of a 6% rise in 2016, which itself followed a 3.4% rise in 2015, confirming again that visitor attractions in Scotland are enjoying a period of sustained growth.
The two top sites — The National Museum of Scotland and Edinburgh Castle — each attracted more than two million visits, the first time that any visitor attraction in Scotland has surpassed the two million milestone.
Overall, 77% of attractions reported an increase over 2016 figures, with a significant number noting that 2017 was their best year to date.
Sectors which fared particularly well in 2017 include castles and heritage sites (+14.7%), museums and galleries (+7.5%), gardens (+13.6%) and distilleries/whisky-related attractions (+11.8%).
Edinburgh continued to dominate the marketplace, with 11 of the top 20 attractions located in the city.
The National Museum of Scotland welcomed the most visitors over this period, while Edinburgh Castle retained its status as the most popular paid attraction.
Overall, 59% of all visits were made to attractions that featured in the top 20 list.
Gordon Rintoul, Director of National Museums Scotland said: “It is terrific news that the latest ASVA visitor figures have confirmed that the National Museum of Scotland is again the most popular visitor attraction in Scotland.
“In 2017 we welcomed almost 2.2 million visitors – the first time we have attracted over two million in a calendar year.
“We also recorded the highest ever visitor numbers across all our sites with over 3.1 million visits.
“2017 was a very busy year for the Museum.
“We staged our acclaimed exhibitions Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites, and The Tomb: Ancient Egyptian Burial, which was the most popular special exhibition we have mounted.
“A varied programme of summer activities included the sell-out Fringe showcase events, Friday Fringe Takeover and the return of Gilded Balloon at the Museum.
“We are now looking ahead to the spring 2019 opening of two new galleries dedicated to ancient Egypt and East Asia, the final phase in our masterplan to transform the Museum and showcase the breadth of our world-class collections.”
Another area of Scotland which fared well in 2017 was the Highlands.
Inverewe Garden in Wester Ross enjoyed a major uplift in visitor numbers (+110%), driven in part by the popularity of the North Coast 500 driving route.
Attractions in the vicinity of Loch Ness, including the medieval fortress of Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness by Jacobite, which offers scenic cruises on the loch, continued to demonstrate above average growth with increases in visitor numbers of 23% and 29% respectively.
Both attractions are benefiting from a programme of visits of around 30,000 per year from a tour operator specialising in the Chinese market.
The “Outlander” effect continued to benefit many sites featuring in the TV series, as well as others with Jacobite connections, with large increases in visitor numbers recorded at attractions including Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre (+28%), Glasgow Cathedral (+31%), Castle Fraser (+49%) and Glenfinnan Monument (+58%) .
Distilleries and whisky-related attractions also enjoyed a successful year, with notable rises recorded at Blair Athol Distillery Visitor Centre (+18%), Caol Ila Distillery Visitor Centre (+32%), Glen Ord Distillery Visitor Centre (+28%) and Kingsbarns Distillery (+30%), while The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh welcomed 16% more visitors.
Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop said: “With Scotland’s iconic tourist sites attracting over 30 million visits, 2017 was another hugely successful year for our world-class visitor attractions.
“Tourism is of vital importance to communities throughout Scotland, stimulating economic growth and promoting the importance of our cultural heritage to a wider audience.
“These latest figures demonstrate that our visitor attractions are continuing to create quality experiences, helping build our reputation as a premier tourism destination for people from around the world.”
Douglas Walker, Chair of ASVA said: “These figures demonstrate that the visitor attractions sector in Scotland is in robust health.
“Attractions that have invested in their visitor offer by developing innovative new products and services and launching inspiring events and exhibitions programmes, supported by creative and effective marketing campaigns, are not only reaching new visitor markets but are actively encouraging their existing visitors to return time and again.”
Malcolm Roughead, VisitScotland Chief Executive, said: “Scotland’s visitor attractions are a valuable part of our country’s outstanding tourism offering, showcasing our rich history and sharing Scotland’s story with visitors from far and wide.
“It is fantastic to see such strong growth in numbers for the fourth year running.
“2017 was the year to delve into Scotland’s fascinating past, and the huge success of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology will have undoubtedly helped shine a light on the country’s many ancient castles and heritage sites, including Edinburgh Castle which, for the first time, attracted over two-million visitors. An incredible achievement.
“The continued impact of the Outlander effect and the growing popularity of whisky tourism are also positioning Scotland as an unmissable destination for film and food and drink experiences.
“Scotland’s reputation as a quality destination relies on the strength of its offering, our visitor attractions are a vital asset as we look to grow our tourism industry and position Scotland as a quality destination for visitors from across the world. “