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News Agenda: More and more Scots are choosing staycations this summer, but will it save the tourist industry?

Tourism chiefs are optimistic that Scots will explore and enjoy their own country rather than travelling abroad in the months ahead.
Neil Drysdale
Dunnottar Castle is one of Scotland's myriad tourist attractions.
Dunnottar Castle is one of Scotland's myriad tourist attractions.

There are no shortage of storms in the news these days. Whether it’s the cost-of-living crisis, the impact of Brexit or the fall-out from the war in Ukraine, most people are feeling the cold wind of austerity.

Yet, if there are dark clouds over the economy, they may provide a silver lining for Scotland’s beleaguered tourist sector as it continues its recovery from the pandemic.

Industry chiefs have told the Press & Journal that an increasing number of staycations are being booked for the summer period, allied to a surge in interest from foreign visitors, particularly the United States and Europe, whose residents are taking advantage of a “favourable currency situation.”

The market is volatile at the moment

It’s not all positive news. One hospitality owner predicted that the next three to four months would be the prelude to a string of closures of hotels, pubs and restaurants unless their fortunes were transformed by hard cash from local and foreign visitors.

Yet others were more upbeat in their assessment. Research by VisitScotland demonstrates that, when faced with the choice of exploring their own country or standing in long queues at airports, burdened with tax hikes for flights and spiralling hotel prices, many Scots are reaching the same conclusion: home is where the heart is.

The Nuart festival attracts an international audience to Aberdeen.

David Jackson, the organisation’s regional director, told me: “Our latest insights suggest that more people may be considering a staycation this year compared to before the pandemic, with Scotland emerging as a leading choice for UK residents.

“This marks a real opportunity for local businesses and a chance for people across the country to discover the north-east’s diverse and vibrant tourism offering.

The summer picture looks promising

“Anecdotally, we are hearing encouraging signs from businesses with many reporting good bookings for the months ahead. We know that value for money is really important to visitors at the minute and, through our marketing, we are highlighting the range of options available in Scotland to suit every budget.

“There is much to look forward to in the north-east over the coming months from exciting events such as the Portsoy Traditional Boat Festival [on July 1 and 2] and the NUART festival in Aberdeen [from June 8 to 11] to fascinating attractions such as Peterhead Prison Museum, Balmoral Castle and Estate and Aberdeen Art Gallery.

“Whether booking a trip, attending an event, visiting an attraction or eating out, there are so many ways that people can enjoy our tourism offering while at the same time supporting the industry and local communities.”

Lerwick Harbour
The Tall Ships are coming to Lerwick this summer.

A range of exciting events

It’s a similar story in the Highlands and Islands, with a diverse range of events scheduled in the coming months, in conjunction with the international reputation of the NC500, which has already enticed visitors from as far afield as Australia and Japan.

Chris Taylor, VisitScotland’s destination development director said: “There are exciting events such as the Midnight Sun Weekender Festival in Stornoway [from May 25 to 27] to the Tall Ships Races in Shetland [from July 26 to 29] and the Glencoe Watersports Festival that starts at the end of June [and continues until July 2].

“Then, there are fascinating attractions like the Loch Ness Centre which is set to open after a major transformation, Strathnaver Museum and Dundreggan Rewilding Centre.”

Peterhead Prison Museum boss Alex Geddes is keen to attract more visitors.

There’s little doubt that many companies are staring at the prospect of oblivion without a sustained spell of financial success this summer. One owner, who did not want to be identified, said: “We don’t need to make a great profit to carry on, but soon enough, I reckon many businessmen will get fed up just surviving and throw in the towel.

“I sit on a few business forums throughout the UK and the message is the same across the whole country. We can’t keep clinging on by our fingertips on an indefinite basis.”

This is an excellent tourist spot

However, Alex Geddes, the operations director at Peterhead Prison Museum, is among those who have urged Scots to appreciate the quality of tourist sites on their doorstep.

He said: “As we look towards a brighter future for Scottish tourism after what has been a challenging period for all businesses, I hope people will consider some of the many benefits of visiting attractions within their own country.

“These include supporting local businesses, helping to ensure job security for local people employed at these places, added to there being no stress of passport requirements and the wider economic benefits to the Scottish tourism industry.

“I really hope that 2023 will see a huge increase in footfall for everybody in the industry and make people realise how interesting and beautiful our country is.”

Calanais Standing Stones attract an estimated 150,000 people a year. Image: Sandy McCook.

In the past, there has been a feeling that Scotland hasn’t fully capitalised on its potential as a magnet for tourists and allowed a situation to develop where a few attractions, such as Edinburgh Castle, Burns’ Cottage, The Quiraing on Skye, the Calanais standing stones in Lewis and Skara Brae on Orkney do a lot of the heavy lifting.

As recently as December, Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said: “The continued erosion of Scotland’s tourism and hospitality industry should be a major concern for all of us. However, there is some positive news from a marketing point of view in that VisitScotland’s core budget has been protected which we hope will translate to increased inbound visitor numbers.”

The Quiraing on Skye is a hugely popular tourist destination.

A ‘crucial opportunity for recovery’

Karen Adam, the SNP MSP for Banff and Buchan, is among those who feel that Scotland often sells itself short in promoting how much it has to offer.

She said: “From stunning beaches to towering mountains and world-class food and drink, it offers the perfect backdrop for a holiday, with a wealth of options.

“So often, we miss what is right under our noses – leaving tourists to enjoy the natural beauty, high-octane adventures and culture. That’s why I launched Banffshire and Buchan Coast’s ‘Making the Most of the Coast: Tourism Forum’ last year, to help industry across my constituency grow sustainable tourism in the area.

“Our tourism sector has faced immense challenges in recent years. At this crucial opportunity for recovery, I would encourage everyone across Scotland to consider a holiday closer to home this year – to stimulate our economy and to give our world-renowned tourism sector the well-deserved boost it needs.

“You can’t guarantee the weather – but you are guaranteed a trip you’ll never forget!”

Karen Adam, SNP MSP for Banffshire and Buchan Coast.

Ultimately, there’s no magic spell which will eradicate the travails faced by many in the industry. But at least it seems the message is spreading among many Scots that they don’t need to fly off to the Continent to enjoy their holidays.

Isabella Macdonald, who runs Kinloch Lodge on Skye, said: “If I could go on holiday right now, I would be so happy to remain in our beautiful Scotland.

Scots feel more like family to me

“There’s so much to see and do and every area has its own inspiration, scenery, food, people, and history, that a lifetime isn’t long enough to get to know Scotland.

“Everyone is welcomed with open arms here at Kinloch, but those who are Scottish feel just a little bit more like family to me.”

More than ever, these ties will matter as the sector holds it breath and prepares for a summer where the sun shines, the midges are kept at bay, and the beaches are packed.

If that doesn’t happen, the consequences will be dire.