Scotland's Economy

Welcoming the world: Scotland’s vibrant tourism sector

tourism addThis year Scotland will be on the world stage like never before. With the Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup golf competition, the Year of Homecoming and the MTV Europe music awards, 2014 is forecast to be a record breaking year for Scottish tourism.

Tourism plays a substantial role in Scotland’s economy.

A report by Deloitte found that tourism was worth £11.6 billion to Scotland’s economy in 2013, and supports over 292,000 jobs. The report said that the sector could be worth £23.1 billion by 2025.

The tourism sector was also worth £4.3 billion in direct expenditure from overnight visitors.

This is because of Scotland success in a range of tourism areas. Scotland has historic sites like Edinburgh and Stirling Castle, epic scenery like Loch Lomond and Loch Ness and the vibrancy of nightlife and dining in Scotland’s major cities.

Scotland’s islands are also renowned as beautiful destinations. Lewis and Harris, the Orkney islands and Mull were awarded spots among Europe’s top 10 island destinations (alongside sunny Greek island getaways) in a recent poll.

Scotland set for ‘tourism boom’

A report released last week said Scotland is set to experience a ‘tourism boom’, with growth in Scotland faster than in the rest of the UK. The report stated that this would bring ‘longer term’ benefits especially for the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors.

This growing sector is one of many strengths in Scotland’s economy. With economic powers in Scotland all governments have developed plans to make the most of Scotland’s global popularity.

Scotland is extremely well placed for tourism

visitor experienceScotland is a world renowned destination. Scotland has exceptional natural assets in the beauty of its scenery. Scotland also has an unrivalled cultural sector through events such as the Edinburgh Fringe and International Festival. In terms of business conference locations, heritage, quality dining, nightlife and digital connectivity, Scotland is in a position of strength.

2014 is set to provide more opportunities than ever to build on Scotland’s tourism success, create more tourism jobs and expand revenue for businesses in Scotland.

Scotland’s national tourism strategy

The National Tourism Strategy is ‘Tourism Scotland 2020’, launched in June 2012. It provides a plan to grow jobs and the number of visitors to Scotland through cooperation between industry and public organisations. (General introduction document)

These include VisitScotland (the national tourism organisation, which focuses on marketing, information provision and quality assurance); Scottish Enterprise (which develops the Scottish Tourism Alliance, aids collaboration and investment in tourism infrastructure); as well as organisations like Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Key sectors for growth

royal-mile-4-lst074670The tourism strategy includes 9 key areas for growth.

These include outdoor activities, events and festivals, key destinations (such as travel breaks to towns and cities), business tourism, heritage tourism, quality and skills for visitor experience, food and drink entertainment, sustainability and digital connectivity.

Improving these aspects of visiting Scotland aims to increase visitor numbers from four key geographical areas – from the rest of the UK, from near European neighbours, from the USA, Canada and Australia, and from emerging markets in India, China, Russia and Brazil.

Would independence provide greater opportunities for Scottish tourism?

Power over spending and promotion allows the Scottish Government to support the tourism sector. This support will continue after independence. Independence will give Scotland greater powers to support tourism through the tax system and in terms of international promotion.

The act of independence will literarily put the nation of Scotland on the international map.

1) Economic incentives to support tourism

A) A number of independent countries have reformed their tax system to support the tourism sector. Such initiatives have focused on reductions in Value Added Tax to encourage greater investment and reduce tourism costs. The Scottish Tourism Alliance and the British Hospitality Association both support a cut in tourism VAT in an independent Scotland.

B) International visits to Scotland depend on affordable flight connections. The ability to support expansion in connections is crucial. Ireland and Catalonia, for instance, have successfully expanded their international connections and created ‘business hubs’ of inward investment.

Reducing Air Passenger Duty has played a part in this process. An independent Scotland is expected to cut ADP by at least 50% to encourage more flights to Scotland. This should boost overnight stays in Scotland. Willie Walsh, the Chief Executive of British Airwaves, and Michael O’Leary, Chief Executive of Ryanair, have both been positive about Scottish independence, as it would support growth in aviation.

2) Promoting Scotland internationally

Governments can promote Scotland’s tourism strengths through networks, embassies and events. The Scottish Government already promotes Scotland as a destination through Visit Scotland projects and events overseas like Tartan Week.

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama learn how to pull a pint of Guinness in Moneygall Ireland

State visits by President Obama to Ireland put the Emerald Isle on the global stage

An independent Scotland will have greater global reach and greater resources for international business projects. Scotland Development International currently has 27 global offices. An independent Scotland will have at least 70 embassies to promote Scotland. In a practical sense, diplomatic agencies will be established in Scotland for government relations. This will encourage closer links and trips between Scotland and the peoples of nations across the world.

3) International recognition for ‘brand Scotland’

Independence will make Scotland an equal nation on the world stage. Beyond the material benefits of promotion, this will boost Scotland’s image and brand on an enormous scale. Scotland as a destination will benefit from a range of factors from Scotland playing a greater role in world affairs.

As former White House chef David Macfarlane say “A Yes vote will generate a massive boost for Scotland the brand, and generate interest in Scottish culture around the world.”

Scotland will have an Olympic team, participate in the Eurovision song contest, be a member of the United Nations and European Union, expand trade and diplomatic visits, create more films, drama, and comedy through a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation…there is a long list of new forms of brand recognition that accompany independence. In short, independence will put Scotland even more firmly on the map as a tourist destination.

4) A Government closer to home to communicate the interests of tourism in Scotland

ScottishParliamentPowers over spending and promotion in Scotland have created a model that supports tourism in Scotland. Making decisions in Scotland means that policy makers are more accessible than at a Westminster level. This improves cooperation between organisations and creates flexible and responsive ways of working together.

Governments in Scotland are most likely to promote the full benefits of visiting Scotland in comparison to Westminster’s interests, which are less focused on Scotland. Labour, Liberal and SNP parties all contributed to winning the Glasgow Commonwealth Games bid and bringing the Ryder Cup competition to Gleneagles. Successful promotion by Government creates more opportunities. The full powers of independence will bring the full opportunities available to independent countries.


Scotland’s tourism sector is flourishing. It is an example of why Scotland is a wealthy nation with the skills, resources and finances to succeed as an independent country.

2014 is a unique year to celebrate Scotland’s place as a global destination. It is also a year where Scotland can expand its international horizons to promote Scotland for generations to come.

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About the author

Michael Gray

Michael is Head of Research with Business for Scotland.

A graduate from the University of Glasgow, he has carried out a series of interviews with academics, politicians and the public in Denmark, Iceland and Ireland. Michael's on twitter @GrayInGlasgow.


  • Having lived for a great many years in the US I have never seen an advertisement on TV from Visit Scotland promoting the wonderful scenery and open spaces we have in abundance.
    Did spot once an advertisement from Visit Britain. Seem to remember it featured a beefeater scenes of the Tower of London, the Cheshire Gorge and Stratford on Avon, nothing of-course, of Scotland.
    We by being under Westminsters yoke are unable to scrap that odious APD which benefits no-body but the Treasury.
    Visit Scotland – I reserve judgement.

  • Good article Michael,

    As an ‘ordinary punter’ and shortly returning expat, I certainly want to see thousands of tourists visiting Scotland.

    What however I want to see are happy departing tourists, who, despite the waether, would heartily recommend to family and friends that they also visit and that these self-same tourists also want to return.

    Here it comes – however – Scotland’s businesses and our people – especially in the service industry – need to take a close look at themselves with regard to attitude, demeanour, appearance, service and how we can get business hour flexibility that means towns and various venues do not adopt the ‘it’s 5pm the town shuts down attitude’ which as a native, leaves me cold as it is quite depressing.

    I appreciate many people work hard to generate a feeling of well-being for our visitors but many more do not see that politeness and consideration are skills we all can learn and act upon.

    Example – my wife and I had afternoon tea in Raffles Dubai the other day – as a very special treat – and one comment made by the waiter to my wife which will stay with her forever is -‘ …would Madam like a cushion?’ (for her chair – as he thought she might be uncomfortable). Not somthing one is likely to hear in many establishments in Scotland and yet that level of consideration and politeness is not unusual here.

    In short I wish the Tourist Industry well and hope we can step up a gear or two – especially after 18 September!

    • Good point Ian. I have also lived in the parts of the world where service levels make most of Europe seem barbaric. There is a cost element involved but there is no excuse for poor attitude. Scotland certainly has improved in recent years but there is still a way to go and it is up to the industry, educational institutes, etc to take this important aspect seriously.
      These are exciting times, the implementation phase of independence will put a lot of positive challenges in our path. A positive, can do attitude is a critical success factor.

  • […] This year Scotland will be on the world stage like never before. With the Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup golf competition, the Year of Homecoming and the MTV Europe music awards, 2014 is forecast to be a record breaking year for Scottish tourism. Tourism plays a substantial role in Scotland's  […]

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