Visitor attraction numbers in Scotland slumped by almost 34 million in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, new figures have shown.
Overall visitor numbers fell 63.2% with 153 sites closed for the full 12 months, according to data from the Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU).
Edinburgh Castle – Scotland’s busiest paid-for attraction in 2019 – recorded an 87.2% drop in visitors, with figures for Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow and the National Museum of Scotland down 85.8% and 79.9% respectively.
Meanwhile, among outdoor attractions, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh was the most popular free site with 452,479 visits.
Edinburgh Zoo was Scotland’s busiest paid-for site last year attracting 292,631 visitors, a drop of 46.4% on the previous 12 months.
Professor John Lennon, director of the Moffat Centre at GCU, said: “The impact of Covid-19 was felt across all aspects of the Scottish visitor attractions sector as travel was restricted, the international market collapsed and the wider economy was impacted.
“Attractions are an essential element of the Scottish visitor experience.
“With international tourism unlikely to return until well into 2022, domestic visitors will provide the sole source of income.
“Their custom will be vital going forward.”
Despite recent changes to lockdown and travel restrictions across the country, a survey carried out by the Moffat Centre – with the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA) – found one in eight sites will remain closed until 2022 unless measures are eased further.
It also found two-thirds of attractions due to reopen this week expect to operate with either reduced hours, some facilities closed, or at weekends-only, to keep costs down.
Gordon Morrison, ASVA chief executive, said: “While the majority of attractions are re-opening from this week onward, it’s extremely concerning that so many sites feel it’s not viable for them to open fully, or even at all this year, due to continuing restrictions.
“Our last survey in March highlighted the continuation of two-metre physical distancing means 54% of attractions are either forced to remain closed or will lose money when they do reopen (with outstanding safety protocols commended by the Scottish Government).
“Those findings, combined with our April survey, reveal just how vulnerable the attractions sector is and how incredibly challenging its economic recovery will be.
“Now more than ever, this important sector of our country’s £11 billion tourism industry needs continued government support to survive and thrive.
“And Scotland’s world-class attractions also need the public to get behind them and for visitors across the country to take full advantage of the wonderful range of experiences and unrivalled welcome they offer.”