The Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA) has announced that visits to its member sites rose slightly in 2018, the fifth year running that an increase in numbers has been recorded.
ASVA, which represents the interests of the key visitor attractions sector in Scotland, has over 480 members comprising some of Scotland’s most popular and iconic castles, galleries, museums, historic houses, heritage sites, wildlife parks, gardens and leisure attractions.
Analysis of statistics submitted by 232 of the organisation’s member sites for its annual ‘Visitor Trends Report’ confirms that 30,262,245 visits were made to those sites in Scotland in 2018, which represents a modest increase of 0.1% over 2017 figures. The increase comes on top of a 9.7% rise in 2017, which itself followed a 6% rise in 2016, confirming once 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 2 million visits, only the second time that any visitor attraction in Scotland has surpassed the 2 million milestone.
Four additional sites attracted in excess of 1 million visitors – two in Edinburgh (Scottish National Gallery and St Giles’ Cathedral) and two in Glasgow (Riverside Museum and Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum).
Sectors which fared particularly well in 2018 include castles and heritage sites (+4.2%), zoos, wildlife parks and aquariums (+4.3%), sports and activity attractions (+7.7%) and distilleries/whisky-related attractions (+2.3%).
Edinburgh continued to dominate the marketplace, with 10 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, some 59% of all visits were made to attractions that featured in the top 20 list.
Dr Gordon Rintoul, Director of National Museums Scotland said: “It is terrific that the latest ASVA visitor figures have once again confirmed the National Museum of Scotland as the most popular visitor attraction in Scotland. In addition we recorded the highest ever visitor numbers across all our sites with over 3.2 million visits.
“It has been a busy year for the Museum with the hugely popular exhibitions, Rip It Up: The Story of Scottish Pop and Art of Glass and a packed programme of activities including a Q&A with astronaut Tim Peake as he unveiled the display of his Soyuz spacecraft, Science Festival events and workshops and the sell-out Fringe showcase, Museum After Hours.
“This month we have just completed the 15-year, £80 million transformation of the National Museum of Scotland with the opening of three new galleries devoted to our outstanding collections of ceramics, ancient Egyptian and East Asian material and we look forward to welcoming visitors to these over the coming year.”
Another area of Scotland which fared well in 2018 was the Highlands. RZSS Highland Wildlife Park near Aviemore enjoyed a major uplift in visitor numbers (+68%), driven in part by the birth of Hamish, the first polar bear cub to be born in the UK for 25 years, while the prehistoric archaeological site of Jarlshof in Shetland recorded a 41% increase in numbers.
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 growth with increases in visitor numbers of 6% and 9% respectively.
Commenting on a bumper year, Daska Mackintosh, Highland Wildlife Park’s Head of Operations and Visitor Services, said: “We’ve had an incredible year and I’m very proud of the whole team here at the Park who have worked exceptionally hard to provide excellent customer service over the course of our busiest year ever.
“As a charity, we depend on every visitor to help us carry out vital conservation work here in Scotland and across the world. Hamish’s arrival has helped us to highlight the threats that many wild animals are facing and the small changes we can make to really make a big difference.”
The ‘Outlander’ effect continued to benefit many sites featuring in the cult TV series, as well as others with Jacobite connections, with large increases in visitor numbers recorded at attractions including Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre (+ 11%), Glasgow Cathedral (+24%), Blackness Castle (+36%), Aberdour Castle (+42%), The Royal Burgh of Culross (+53%) and Glencoe (+29%) .
Distilleries and whisky-related attractions also largely enjoyed another successful year, with notable rises recorded at Cardhu Distillery Visitor Centre (+14%), Dallas Dhu Distillery (+11%), Glen Ord Distillery Visitor Centre (+15%), Oban Distillery Visitor Centre (+17%) and Tomatin Distillery Visitor Centre (+13%), while The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh welcomed 2% more visitors through its doors.
The interest surrounding the opening of the new V&A Dundee in September appears to have impacted positively on the City of Dundee and surrounding area, with attractions including Discovery Point (+42%), Verdant Works (+21%), Arbroath Abbey (+18%) and Barry Mill (+14%) recording significant increases over 2017 figures.
Welcoming the figures in ASVA’s 2018 Visitor Trends Report, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop said: “It’s fantastic to see the success of ASVA’s iconic tourist sites attracting more than 30 million visits in 2018.
“From the new V&A Dundee and growing numbers of distilleries to our historic castles and battlefields which are benefitting from the ‘Outlander effect’ these figures show Scotland is a magnet for visitors from around the world.
“However with the on-going uncertainty of the EU Exit, the Scottish Government recognises we cannot take tourism success for granted. We will continue to work to support sustainable growth of the industry as it creates jobs, boosts the local and national economy and builds on our strong international reputation.”
Gordon Morrison, Chief Executive of ASVA said: “Although reporting only a modest increase in visitor figures of 0.1%, it should be remembered that 2017 was something of a stellar year. To be reporting even a modest increase in 2018 visitor figures is therefore a great achievement for the industry.
“Investment in new attractions, plus attractions that have invested in their visitor offer by developing innovative new products and services and launching inspiring events and exhibitions programmes, are not only reaching new visitor markets but are actively encouraging their existing visitors to return time and again”.
Malcolm Roughead, VisitScotland Chief Executive, added: “Visitor attractions are a hugely popular and valuable part of Scotland’s world-famous tourism offering, allowing visitors to explore our rich history, vibrant culture, famous heritage and stunning natural environment in more detail.
“A growth in visits of any size is a welcome achievement and something we hope will continue. The arrival of V&A Dundee, as well as the increasing interest in set-jetting, thanks to TV series like Outlander or films such as Outlaw King, have only strengthened Scotland’s appeal, and with the opening of Moat Brae in Dumfries and the redevelopment of Aberdeen Art Gallery taking place this year, there is plenty to look forward to in 2019.
“Tourism is more than a holiday experience, it is the heartbeat of the Scottish economy and touches every community. Over the next 12 months, more than ever, we need to encourage the industry to continue providing a warm welcome to all, as well as world-class service, facilities, events and attractions to keep up with ever-changing consumer demands and ensure visitors continue to have memorable experiences.“