A renaissance in Scottish ski-ing has bolstered the country’s tourism industry in the depths of the recession, a new report has revealed.
Ski resorts enjoyed a huge increase in visitors during 2010 as long spells of heavy snow meant people were able to take to the slopes as late as the last week of June.
And as the financial downturn began to bite, more Scots gave up their foreign trips for a “staycation” that helped the national holiday trade.
The Visitor Attraction Monitor 2010 – published yesterday by Glasgow Caledonian University’s Moffat Centre – showed the number of visits to attractions north of the border dropped by 0.3% last year.
National Trust for Scotland properties in the Highlands suffered most, with numbers at Culloden Visitor Centre falling by 13.2% to under 100,000, and Hugh Miller’s Cottage at Cromarty plunging by 31.7% to just 2,306.
But the report found that ski centres bucked the trend, with almost 250,000 people visiting Cairngorm Mountain Railway, near one of the most popular snowsport slopes, while Glenshee ski centre welcomed 125,831 customers – 171% more than in 2009.
Professor John Lennon, a director of the Moffat Centre, said: “There’s no doubt about it, the snow cover of the past two years has really reinvigorated the industry. There has been a renaissance in the Scottish ski industry.”
He said iconic Historic Scotland properties such as Edinburgh Castle continued to thrive, but some National Trust for Scotland buildings in rural areas of the north had suffered in the downturn.
Prof Lennon added: “In a recession as tough as the one we are in, what we have seen is static performance. Our numbers have been balanced by Scots holidaying in Scotland, people in England choosing to holiday in Scotland rather than abroad, and the relatively good value for money offered by the strength of the pound against the euro.”
Both Cairngorm and Nevis Range in Lochaber are in the top 20 of paid-for attractions, with the resort near Fort William welcoming 175,000 visitors in 2010 – a 16.2% rise on the previous year.
Nevis Range marketing manager Heather Negus said the bumper year had allowed new investment in the ski centre, which included the addition of a restaurant and a high-wire adventure course for the summer months.
She said the large number of visitors had also meant an increase in the size of equipment hire facilities.
“The ski hire used to be big enough but it has become so expensive to take your own skis on board cheap flights that people are choosing to hire when they are at home and abroad,” she said.
“We are planning for the long term. We plan to be here for a long time.”
A VisitScotland spokesman said: “The increase in visitor numbers at attractions such as Glenshee Ski Centre is fantastic news for Scotland’s ski industry. It is great to see some tourism businesses have benefited from the snow at the start and end of the ski season.”
But while the snow helped the ski industry, the National Trust for Scotland blamed the wintry weather for its falling visitor numbers – Culloden was closed at the start and the end of the year.
A spokeswoman added: “There is also some suggestion that people were less likely to travel the long distances to places like Inverewe due to increasing fuel costs.
“The good news is that, despite these challenges, income remained buoyant.
“Our properties across the Highlands are now open for visitors for 2011, with a packed programme of events from Easter onwards, and we look forward to welcoming many thousands of visitors this summer.”
Experts expect this year’s visitor numbers to the Highlands will be boosted by the Barclays Scottish Open at Castle Stuart Golf Links, near Inverness, which should attract 50,000 spectators.