Millions of tourists from all over the world flock to Scotland each year. Why not? After all, it is home to stunning landscapes and natural sceneries, as well as rich cultural and historical heritage.
From the spectacular glens of the Highlands and dramatic castles in Aberdeen, all the way to the charming people of Glasgow and the capital’s buzzing city life.
Did you know …
- International travellers to Scotland spent £2.5 billion in 2019 alone?
- Nearly 9% of employees in Scotland work in the tourism sector?
Indeed, travel and tourism are an essential part of Scotland’s lifestyle and economy.
This article is a treasure trove of statistics on the travel and tourism industry in Scotland. We will cover everything from how popular this nation is as a tourist destination to the nitty gritty of its financial earnings.
Let’s get right into it!
Sources: After each stat, I have referenced where the data was gathered and curated from. For a full list of all articles used in this roundup, please head to the bottom of the post. At the time of publication, these are the most up-to-date statistics available. Little data was gathered in 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Scotland tourism key stats
- In 2019, there were a total of 151 million visits to Scotland
- Overseas travellers in Scotland spent about £2.5 billion in 2019 alone
- 133.6 million were day visits, while 17.5 million included a stay of at least 1 night
- Over 7.6 million of the visits were from Scotland, while almost 6 million were from England
- 50% of visitors come to Scotland for the scenery and landscape. History & culture is also a core driver for visiting Scotland
- Most international trips to Scotland were made from the USA, Germany, France and Netherlands
- Tourist spending generated £12 billion of economic activity in Scotland
- Scotland’s tourism industry contributes roughly £6 billion to the overall GDP, or around 5%
- In 2019, 229,000 people were employed in the Scotland tourism sector. This is 8.8% of the total employment in Scotland
- 14,970 (8.4%) companies in Scotland are in the Scottish tourism industry
- Over 2012 to 2017, tourism employment in Scotland rose by 13%
- The most popular region in Scotland is Glasgow & Clyde Valley. It received 29.7 million day visits and 3.1 million overnight visits in 2019
- Scotland has more than 11,000 miles of coastline, 137 miles of canals, 31,460 freshwater lochs and 118 inhabited islands
- 16 million people visit Scotland’s coastal destinations annually
- In 2020, 78% of tourism companies in Scotland reported reduced revenue from 2019 due to the Coronavirus pandemic
Travel & Scotland’s economy
How does tourism contribute to Scotland’s economy?
1. In 2019, the total expenditure of overnight and day trips was £11.6 billion.
VisitScotland found that 2019 had been the best year for Scotland’s overnight tourism over the last decade. The spending for overnight trips rose by 12% from the previous year
2. International visitors contributed to £2.5 billion of that amount.
While the number of international visits actually dropped by 7%, there was a significant increase in the average length of stay (+8%) and spending per trip (+7%).
3. Domestic day trips to Scotland in 2019 generated around £5.8 billion.
Scottish residents made notably more overnight trips and day trips in 2019, generating roughly £5.8 billion in day trip expenditure alone.
4. Tourist spending generated £12 billion of economic activity in Scotland.
Spending by tourists contributes approximately £12 billion for the overall Scottish supply chain. This industry was recognized as an important growth sector in the nation’s 2015 economic strategy.
5. Scotland’s tourism industry contributes roughly £6 billion to the overall GDP, or around 5%.
In terms of GDP, tourism in Scotland represents 5% or £6 billion of the total GDP.
6. VisitScotland, which is the official tourism organisation of Scotland, has an annual budget of over £45 million.
A huge part of Scotland’s tourism is the official tourism organisation, VisitScotland. The government budgets more than £45 million for this entity each year.
International inbound tourism statistics in Scotland
How many international tourists visit Scotland?
7. There were 3.46 million overseas visits to Scotland in 2019 alone.
International tourism expenditure reached the highest record in 2019 despite a slight decrease in number of visits.
8. The average international tourist stays for 7.9 nights in Scotland.
Understandably, overseas tourists spent more time in Scotland per trip compared to the average 2.9 nights for domestic travellers.
9. 2.1 million trips were made for holidaying purposes, while 371,000 had been business visits.
The majority of international tourists (61%) come to Scotland for holiday and vacation, while 11% of the visits were for business purposes.
10. The average spend for international tourists is £734 per visit.
Average spending per international trip to Scotland also reached an all-time high in 2019, compared to only £625 back in 2011.
11. The top 4 source markets for international tourism in Scotland are USA, Germany, France and Netherlands in that order.
Scotland is an especially popular tourist destination for tourists from the USA, Germany, France and Netherlands, all of which make up the top 4 markets for international tourism in Scotland.
12. In 2019, there were 636,000 visits to Scotland from the USA or 18% of all international visits.
The largest portion of international tourists to Scotland from a country is the USA.
13. The average length of stay for visitors to Scotland from the USA in 2019 were 6.7 nights.
Domestic Tourism statistics in Scotland
How many domestic tourists travel to Scotland?
14. In 2019, there were a total of 151 million visits to Scotland (both domestic and international).
15. 133.6 million were day visits, while 17.5 million included a stay of at least 1 night.
16. UK residents made 14.1 million overnight visits to Scotland.
17. Over 7.6 million of the visits were from Scotland, while almost 6 million were from England.
18. In 2019, domestic visitors in the 14-24 and 55-64 age groups saw a huge increase compared to the previous year.
19. 2019 saw a drastic rise in domestic travellers as the number of trips increased by 33% from 2018.
2019 was the best year over the last decade for overnight trips by domestic visitors in Scotland.
20. The main reason to travel to Scotland for domestic visitors is holidaying (56% of all visits).
14 out of 25 domestic visits to Scotland are made for holiday purposes. Meanwhile, business visits make up 13% of all domestic visits in 2019.
21. 62% of domestic travellers spend between 1-3 nights in Scotland. Only 7% spend more than 7 nights per trip.
For most domestic travellers in Scotland, 1 to 3 nights is the ideal length of stay, whereas only 7% of them stay for 8 nights or more at a time.
22. In 2019, the average amount spent per visit to Scotland was £291.
Motivations for visiting Scotland
What are the main reasons people visit Scotland?
23. The key motivation for visiting Scotland for 50% of visitors is the scenery and landscape.
A 2015/2016 visitor survey conducted by VisitScotland across 19 regions in Scotland over two summer periods (May to September) concluded that 1 in 2 people visit Scotland for the scenery and landscape.
24. The second core driver after that for visiting Scotland is the history & culture.
Following closely to that, 1 in 3 visitors to Scotland are motivated by the rich history and culture of the nation.
25. 24% of European, long haul, and first-time visitors were persuaded to spend holiday in Scotland by word of mouth recommendation from friends, family, or colleagues.
For a lot of European, long haul and first-time visitors to Scotland, recommendation from friends and family is a determining factor for their visit. On the other hand, Scottish residents tend to be driven by the desire to spend vacation at home.
26. 1 in 10 visitors were influenced by a travel feature about Scotland, whereas 8% of visitors were prompted by a TV programme about Scotland.
27. Outlander, both the TV series and books, have had a significant impact in inspiring 17% of visitors to travel to Scotland.
28. 47.8 million day trips to Scotland were made in 2019 by domestic travellers to visit friends or family.
Visiting friends and family is also a popular motivation for visiting Scotland. In 2019, residents from the UK made around 47.8 day trips to Scotland for this purpose.
Scotland coastal tourism statistics
How popular are seaside destinations in Scotland?
29. Scotland has more than 11,000 miles of coastline, 137 miles of canals, 31,460 freshwater lochs and 118 inhabited islands.
Scotland’s coasts and seaside areas are a crucial part of the local culture and history. From the picturesque beaches to spectacular waterfalls, lochs, and rivers, many tourists flock to these water-based destinations during their travels.
30. There are 16 million domestic day trips to Scotland’s coastal destinations annually.
Day trip visitors to coastal locations in Scotland tend to indulge in outdoor leisure activities and exploring the beautiful landscape.
31. In 2019, there were 2.31 million domestic overnight trips to seaside and coastal locations in Scotland.
32. Most domestic visitors to Scotland’s coastal regions would visit the South (29%) or North of Scotland (28%).
The most popular coastal regions in Scotland among domestic travelers are the South and North. City destinations like Edinburgh and Glasgow, in the East and West of Scotland respectively, are more popular among city enthusiasts.
33. 38% of international visitors visit a beach.
34. International visitors from Poland are the most likely to visit seaside destinations in Scotland with 62% of propensity, while those from Germany and Italy have 51% likelihood to do so.
Among international tourists in Scotland, those from Poland are the most likely to visit a coastal location. They have a 62% propensity to do so, whereas German and Italian travellers are close behind with 51% likelihood each.
Tourism employment in Scotland
How many people are employed in the Scottish tourism industry?
35. In 2019, 229,000 people were employed in the Scotland tourism sector. This is 8.8% of the total employment in Scotland.
Before the Coronavirus pandemic, the tourism sector in Scotland consisted of 229,000 people, which is roughly 1 in 12 jobs. It’s an especially significant industry in cities and rural regions.
36. 14,970 (8.4%) companies in Scotland are in the Scottish tourism industry.
From around 178,214 registered companies in Scotland, 8.4% are in the tourism industry,
37. In 2017, the tourism sector is most important in the region of Argyll & Bute, where 69 out of 1000 people work in the tourism industry.
38. This is closely followed by Highland and City of Edinburgh, at 68 and 64 people out of 1000 employed in the tourism sector respectively.
39. The travel industry is least significant in East Renfrewshire, where tourism employment accounts to only 0.016% of total employment in the region.
40. Over 2012 to 2017, tourism employment in Scotland rose by 13%.
The tourism industry is one of the growing industries in Scotland. It saw a 13% increase in employment over a 5-year period from 2012 until 2017.
Tourist destinations in Scotland
What are the most popular tourist destinations in Scotland?
41. Glasgow & Clyde Valley had been the most popular region to visit in 2019. It received 29.7 million day visits and 3.1 million overnight visits.
42. Meanwhile, Edinburgh and Lothians were the most popular region for overnight visits (5.3 million). It also saw 24.8 million day visits.
Out of the 15 major regions in Scotland as listed on VisitScotland, Glasgow & Clyde Valley is the most popular tourism location overall. Meanwhile, most visitors go to Edinburgh and Lothians for overnight visits.
These two regions are followed in order by: Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, the Highlands, Ayrshire & Arran, and Kingdom of Fife.
- Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire: 1.3m overnight, 14.6 day visit
- Highland: 2.9m overnight, 9.6m day visits
- Ayrshire & Arran: 742k overnight, 10.4m day visits
- Kingdom of Fife: 705k overnight, 8.6m day visits
43. Free tourist attractions tend to be more popular, with the National Museum exceeding 2.21 million visitors in 2019.
Free tourist attractions receive slightly more visits than paid attractions. The National Museum is the most popular attraction in all of Scotland, as it welcomed over 2.21 million visitors in 2019 alone.
44. The next most visited free attractions in Scotland are the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, the Scottish National Gallery, and the Riverside Museum in this order.
Museums are no doubt the favorite choice for free attraction amongst visitors. Some famous non-museum destinations in Scotland include St Giles’ Cathedral and Gretna Green Famous Blacksmiths Shop.
45. In 2019, the most visited paid attraction was Edinburgh Castle, which saw around 2.17 million visits.
For paid attractions, the most popular tourist destination would be Edinburg Castle. It received 2.17 million visits in 2019.
46. The Edinburgh bus tours received 615,000 visitors in 2019.
Impact of Coronavirus on Scotland’s tourism industry
How did the Covid-19 pandemic affect Scottish travel & tourism?
47. In the first quarter of 2020, international visitor trips decreased by 17% while international visitor spend dropped by 3% (compared to first quarter of 2019).
From the most recent update we could find on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Scottish tourism, the report stated that overseas trips had decreased by 17% in Q1 of 2020. Note that lockdown in Scotland was enforced only by the end of Q1, yet the consequences are still apparent.
48. In summer and autumn of 2020, accommodation providers reported only 64% peak occupancy compared to 89% in 2019.
49. 78% of tourism companies reported reduced revenue from 2019.
50. 35% of staff were dismissed in 2020, while 69% had been put on furlough.
51. Over March and September 2020, there was an 8.4% decrease of jobs in Scotland’s accommodation and food services.
Scotland’s accommodation and food services industry was the worst impacted amongst the four nations in the UK.
52. Between February 2020 (when Covid-19 began to directly impact the economy) and December 2020, Scottish GDP has fallen by 7.2%.
53. In this time period, the sector most impacted is accommodation and food services which recorded 60% loss in GDP.
54. The arts, culture and recreation sector also experienced an approximately 42% decrease in GDP.
Not all the sectors in the Scottish economy were impacted in the same proportion. Industries directly related to tourism such as accommodation & food services, other services, and arts, culture & recreation suffered the most.
The tourism industry makes up 5% of Scotland’s total GDP. And since being identified as a growth sector back in 2015, this nation has received only more and more visitors each year.
Therefore, it is no surprise that this industry has created many job opportunities, especially in the rural areas that depend on tourists for their main source of income.
Despite the pressure and negative consequences of the recent Coronavirus pandemic, it’s reasonable to think that the Scottish tourism sector will recover and continue to grow.
We hope this post has been useful in telling you everything you might want to know about Scotland travel & tourism statistics.
Did we miss anything important? Please leave a comment below!