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Visitor numbers rise 5%

FSB boss questions whether tourism figures are ‘good enough’

EdinburghScotland’s hopes of cashing in on a year of major events was rewarded with a 5% rise in visitors and a jump in spending – though a small business leader questioned whether the figures were good enough.

More than 15 million overseas and domestics visitors spent more than £4.7 billion, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.

Tourism minister Fergus Ewing described the figures as “hugely encouraging”. He said they show Scotland’s tourism industry continuing to grow and outperform Great Britain as a whole.

But the Federation of Small Businesses which includes many tourism firms among its membership, claimed the industry has”a mountain to climb” to reach the government target of increasing visitor spending to £5.5bn by 2020.

Andy Willox, Scottish policy convenor, said:  “Tourism is a huge part of Scotland’s economy, contributing over 10% of GDP and generating 185,000 jobs – many of them in the army of small tourism businesses.

“2014 should have been a bumper year for Scottish tourism. While today’s figures are good, the question is whether they’re good enough given the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup raised the country’s profile to new heights.

“The Scottish Government and the wider industry has a mountain to climb to reach its own tourism spend target. With just 5 years to go to permanently increase spending by £800 million, we need to have a public debate about whether we’re taking the right approach.

“Our recent report highlighted that many Scottish small tourism firms struggle grow – in part due to poor digital and transport infrastructure and problems in accessing affordable finance. Further, many small firms aren’t connected to national and local tourism initiatives. Tackling these issues has to be a priority.”

Mr Ewing argued that 2014 has taken Scotland’s profile to great heights” with the eyes of the world on Scotland.

“With 2015 being the Year of Food and Drink, we are determined to build on this success for the future,” he said.

The numbers showed that more than half a million visitors came from North America, an increase of more than 100,000 on the previous year.

VisitScotland Chairman, Mike Cantlay said: “It was our mission to welcome the world in 2014 and we did just that.

“With the highest ever combined spend by domestic and overseas visitors in a decade, it is clear that the engagement and high profile of major global events such as the Commonwealth Games, Ryder Cup and MTV awards had a distinct impact last year.

“Add to that a large number of new direct flight links into Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen from the Middle East, Europe, Canada and North America, as well as significant investment in tourism across Scotland and it is clear to see what we can achieve when we all work together.

“The tourism industry rose to the occasion in every single region of the country and delivered on a remarkable scale.

“We must now reposition ourselves for the second part of this decade, build on momentum and ensure the right investment is made at the right time.    Marketing Scotland has never been more important and VisitScotland continues to invest in key markets to bring visitors to the country – with significant returns on the money we invest.”

“We have great credentials, but we need to keep reinforcing to the world what Scotland is about and how important it is to visit and invest here.  With a number of world class events planned in 2015 including the Turner Prize and World Gymnastics Championships; the opening of the first domestic railway in the UK for over a century – the Borders Railway; and continued development of new hotels, attractions, projects and air routes, this is a truly remarkable time of opportunity for Scotland.”

The figures show:

• Overseas tourists increased by 11% in 2014 and spent £1.84bn, 10% more than in 2013

• The majority of overseas visitors come from Europe and the number of North American rose 28% to almost 500,000, with expenditure increasing by 48% from North America

• There was a 3% increase in domestic (GB) tourism visits to Scotland in 2014 compared the previous year and a 1% decrease in domestic tourism expenditure

• For Great Britain as a whole, there was a 7% decrease in domestic visits and a 2% decrease in expenditure

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