The Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA) has announced that visits to its member sites rose notably for the third year running in 2016.
ASVA, which represents the interests of the key visitor attractions sector in Scotland, has over 450 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 249 of the organisation’s member sites for its annual ‘Visitor Trends Report’ confirms that almost 30 million visits were made to those sites in Scotland in 2016, a rise of 6% over 2015 figures. The increase comes on top of a 3.4% rise in 2015, which itself followed a 6.1% rise in 2014, confirming that visitor attractions in Scotland are currently enjoying a period of sustained growth.
Sectors which fared particularly well in 2016 include castles and heritage sites (+12%), sports and activities centres (+28.7%) and museums and galleries (+5.7%).
Edinburgh continued to dominate the marketplace, with 11 of the top 20 attractions located in the city, compared with 9 in 2015. The National Museum of Scotland welcomed the most visitors over this period, following the opening of ten new galleries in July, overtaking Edinburgh Castle as the most visited attraction in Scotland.
A new addition to the 2016 top 20 list was The Royal Yacht Britannia. Overall, some 54% of all visits were made to attractions that featured in the top 20 list.
Dr Gordon Rintoul, director of National Museums Scotland said: “I am delighted that the latest ASVA visitor figures have confirmed the National Museum of Scotland’s place as the most popular visitor attraction in Scotland. In addition we recorded the highest ever visitor numbers across all our sites with nearly 2.7 million visits. Last year, in celebration of the National Museum’s 150th anniversary, we opened ten new inspirational and engaging galleries of applied art, fashion and design and science and technology and the visitor response to them has been overwhelmingly positive.
“It has been a busy year for the Museum with the hugely popular exhibitions, Celts and Fossil Hunters and a packed programme of summer activities including the sell-out Fringe showcase, Museum After Hours, a new partnership with the Gilded Balloon and award-winning contemporary dance.
“We are now embarking on our final phase of the transformation of the Victorian building, creating two new galleries for our internationally important Ancient Egypt and East Asia collections.”
Another area of Scotland which fared well in 2016 was the Highlands. 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, recorded significant increases in visitor numbers of 14% and 15% respectively. Highland Wildlife Park in Kingussie reported a 10% rise in numbers, while Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre continued to benefit from media coverage generated by the ‘Outlander’ TV series, recording a 21% increase.
Commenting on a successful year for Loch Ness by Jacobite, Managing Director Freda Newton said: “The popularity of the local area shows no signs of slowing down, with visitor numbers growing year-on-year. In 2016, we welcomed 200,000 visitors on board our Loch Ness by Jacobite cruises – a new record. We’re expecting to welcome even more tourists on board this year and have had a great start to 2017 with a popular winter season.”
In Perthshire, The Black Watch Castle & Museum recorded a 1,248% rise in visitors, largely on the back of ‘Weeping Window’, a sculpture featuring thousands of handmade ceramic poppies commemorating those who died in World War One. The Museum was the first location in mainland Scotland to host the sculpture, which was installed as part of the UK-wide tour of the poppies by 14-18 NOW, the arts programme for the World War One centenary.
Welcoming the figures in ASVA’s 2016 Visitor Trends Report, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop said: “It is fantastic that Scottish visitor attractions recorded another successful year in 2016 with almost 30 million visits to some of Scotland’s most popular and iconic tourist sites.
“The tourism sector is of vital importance to Scotland, as it stimulates economic growth and enhances the importance of our cultural heritage. I commend the sterling work of ASVA in creating quality visitor experiences and building Scotland’s reputation as a top tourist destination for visitors from around the world.”
Douglas Walker, chair of ASVA said: “These figures demonstrate that the visitor attractions sector in Scotland is in robust health. Attractions that have invested in their visitor offer by developing innovative new products and services and launching inspiring events and exhibitions programmes, supported by creative and effective marketing campaigns, are not only reaching new visitor markets but are actively encouraging their existing visitors to return time and again”.