• New figures show visitor numbers slumped 34 million in 2020, a fall of 63.2%
  • Continued restrictions mean many attractions cannot reopen fully, a survey reveals
  • Staycationers urged to support Scotland’s visitor attractions this summer

New figures have revealed the full impact of the COVID-19 crisis on Scotland’s visitor attractions.

Overall visitor numbers slumped by almost 34 million in 2020, a fall of 63.2%, with 153 sites closed for the full 12 months, according to data from the Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Edinburgh Castle – Scotland’s busiest paid-for attraction in 2019 – saw visitor numbers drop by 87.2% with figures for Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, in Glasgow, and the National Museum of Scotland falling 85.8% and 79.9% respectively.

Data from the Moffat Centre’s Scottish Visitor Attraction Monitor 2020 shows attractions with large outdoor areas outperformed museums/art galleries and castles.

Edinburgh Zoo was Scotland’s busiest paid-for site last year, attracting 292,631 visitors, a drop of 46.4% on the previous 12 months. Culloden Visitor Centre attracted 182,496 visitors as it recorded battlefield-only visits for the first time and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh was the most popular free site with 452,479 visits.

The Scottish Visitor Attraction Monitor shows the overall number of visits dropped from 53,722,691 in 2019 to 19,785,282, across 638 sites.

Professor John Lennon, Director of the Moffat Centre at GCU, said: “The impact of COVID-19 was felt across all aspects of the Scottish visitor attractions sector as travel was restricted, the international market collapsed and the wider economy was impacted.

“Attractions are an essential element of the Scottish visitor experience. With international tourism unlikely to return until well into 2022, domestic visitors will provide the sole source of income. Their custom will be vital going forward.”

Two-thirds of attractions due to reopen this week expect to operate with either reduced hours, some facilities closed, or at weekends-only, to keep costs down, according to a survey of operators, carried out by the Moffat Centre in partnership with The Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA).

The survey, conducted in April, revealed that one in eight sites will remain closed for all of 2021 without a further easing of coronavirus restrictions.

Industry leaders are now warning many smaller attractions are at risk of closing for good without ongoing financial support from the UK and Scottish Governments.

Gordon Morrison, ASVA Chief Executive, said:“​Whilst the majority of attractions are reopening from this week onward, it’s extremely concerning that so many sites feel it’s not viable for them to open fully, or even at all this year, due to continuing restrictions.

“Our last survey in March revealed the continuation of 2m physical distancing means 54% of attractions are either forced to remain closed or will lose money when they do reopen. Those findings, combined with our April survey, highlight just how vulnerable the attractions sector is and how incredibly challenging its economic recovery will be.

“Now more than ever, this important sector of our country’s £11bn tourism industry not only needs continued government support to survive and thrive but also needs the public to get behind it.

“Visitors can expect the warmest of welcomes and be assured that the highest standards of safety protocols – praised by the Scottish Government as exemplary – have been put in place across the sector for their benefit.  And with sites predicted to be at least 30% less busy this year due to the fact that there will be significantly fewer international visitors, those from Scotland and the rest of the UK can take advantage of a rare opportunity to experience our world-class attractions and all that they offer in a uniquely enjoyable, memorable way.”

Today (26th February) VisitBritain has announced that tourism businesses in the UK registered to the ‘We’re Good To Go’ industry standard scheme can now automatically be issued with the international ‘Safe Travels’ stamp from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).
The ‘We’re Good To Go’ scheme, launched last year by the UK’s national tourism bodies VisitScotland, VisitEngland, Visit Wales and Tourism Northern Ireland, has been recognised by the WTTC as meeting its international global standardised health and hygiene protocols and for its role in supporting the recovery of the UK tourism sector.

The WTTC stamp enables travellers to recognise destinations around the world which have adopted global standardised protocols – so they can experience ‘Safe Travels.’

VisitBritain is coordinating the Safe Travels stamp issue in the UK, on behalf of the WTTC, for businesses registered to its ‘We’re Good To Go’ scheme, with those who welcome international visitors particularly encouraged to use the Safe Travels stamp.
Any business that is signed up to ‘We’re Good To Go’, can now log back into their online ‘We’re Good to Go’ account and download the Safe Travels logo from there. 
As ASVA is a partner organisation for ‘We’re Good to Go’, any members who have not already signed up to the scheme, can sign up here and will benefit from a streamlined application process.
For more information about the alignment between ‘We’re Good to Go’ and ‘Safe Travels’, please click here.

Yesterday (23rd Feb), in a statement to the Scottish Parliament, the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon presented details of the updated Strategic Framework for a return to ‘normal’ life, setting out initial priorities and providing an indicative timeframe for cautiously easing lockdown restrictions.
In her statement, Ms Sturgeon confirmed that the country will move back into a levels system from end of April and that there will be a “phased and significant” reopening of the economy thereafter. The First Minister confirmed that there will be “discussions over the next couple of weeks as we put further flesh on the plans we set out today” and that the Scottish Government will publish a further document in mid March outlining more detail.
Ms Sturgeon also acknowledged that there is a need for greater support for many businesses; “We are also considering some form of tapered support for businesses that may still face trading restrictions and reduced demand, even as they are allowed to re-open” and that the Scottish Government will be working with business organisations on this and other issues as we emerge from lockdown.
Disappointingly, there was little mention of tourism in the statement, but the key points pertaining to our sector are:

  • There will be a moving back to a levels system from the last week in April with all parts of the country currently in level 4 moved back to level 3
  • From 5th April restrictions on outdoor gatherings will be eased so that at least 6 people from 2 households can meet together.
  • From the last week of April there will be a phased but significant re-opening of the economy, including non-essential retail, outdoor hospitality and services like gyms and hairdressers.
  • The Strategic Framework Business fund (SFBF) will be in place at least the end of June.
  • When exiting level four, businesses that are allowed to reopen will continue to receive payments from the SFBF Temporary Closures Grant for at least the next four weeks
  • Tapered support is also being considering for businesses that may still face trading restrictions and reduced demand. 

Members should be made aware that, following the publication of the updated Strategic Framework, the ASVA Board will be meeting the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy & Tourism, Fergus Ewing, on Wednesday 3 March to discuss the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions on our sector. In the meeting, amongst other things, we will be emphasising the need for substantial ongoing financial support whilst our industry is still subjected to restrictions and will be seeking further clarity about the re-opening of our sector.
You can view the First Minister’s statement here and the updated Strategic Framework document can be found at this link.

Following the First Minister’s announcement of a review of the Strategic Framework for Recovery next week and with the industry still very heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, ASVA and the Moffat Centre are asking all Scottish attractions to complete a quick survey to help us ascertain the industry’s preparedness for re-opening, the factors that need to be considered which will influence decision making about re-opening, the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 on your business and further support measures required.
The survey should only take approximately 5 minutes to complete.
We will be using the data collected in the survey to help inform the attractions sector and key stakeholders, including the Scottish Government and VisitScotland, about the potential re-opening of the industry and the challenges ahead. The survey results will also be used to inform and shape ASVA’s lobbying efforts with the Scottish and UK Governments.
It is through data collected from these surveys that we are able to best inform and argue on behalf of the industry. It is therefore essential that we receive as many responses as possible to help us ensure that the sector’s needs are being represented.
We would urge all ASVA attraction members to complete the survey at your earliest convenience. Your support in this matter is greatly appreciated.
To undertake the survey, please click here.

The Scottish Visitor Attractions Support Fund will close for applications today, 19th February, at 5pm.

The £10 million fund has been established to provide financial support to Scottish businesses in the attractions sector that have been severely affected by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, to help keep them in business while restrictions on opening and travel are still in place, and to support them to prepare for reopening in 2021 when restrictions are lifted. 

Having spoken with the fund administrators, VisitScotland, earlier today, we know that many hundreds of applications have come in from across the sector. We can assure all members that the application process is speedy and straightforward, so if your business is eligible, please do not delay in getting your application in.

You can access the fund application form by clicking on this link and more information about the fund can be found here.

Following the announcement of £1.1 billion of consequential funding from the UK Government, Scottish Government Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, has confirmed the extension of 100% business rates relief for another year for retail, tourism and hospitality businesses.

The move builds on the three month rates relief extension announced in the Scottish Budget and will be taken forward provided the Scottish Government receives the funding already assumed from the UK Budget on 3 March, and that requisite funds are available to maintain existing support into 2021-22.

In a Budget Update statement to the Scottish Parliament Ms Forbes also confirmed £50M investment for town centres and £10M in capital funding specifically for tourism infrastructure in rural communities for next year.

ASVA, along with our colleagues at the STA and other trade bodies, has been actively lobbying for the extension of business rates relief and we very much welcomes this announcement by the Finance Secretary.

The full statement by the Finance Secretary can be viewed here.

Yesterday (16th Feb), in a statement to the Scottish Parliament the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced details of the review of current lockdown restrictions. During her statement she advised that the exit from the current lockdown is likely to be more cautious than it was last summer

Ms Sturgeon said that the Scottish Government is currently preparing a revised strategic framework, which she hopes will be published next week.  This framework will set out in more detail when and how Scotland might gradually emerge from lockdown. The revised framework will “aim to set out how we will use and balance all the tools at our disposal – restrictions and advice, vaccination, test and protect, and travel restrictions – to restore, on a phased basis, greater normality to our everyday lives.”

We know that members are very keen to get an idea about when lockdown may be lifted for our sector and we hope to have some clarity when the revised framework is published. In the meantime, we would highlight to members that, in her statement, the First Minister indicated that the Scottish Government is “likely to advise against booking Easter holidays, either overseas or within Scotland.” She also added; “For the summer, while it is still highly unlikely that overseas holidays will be possible or advisable, staycations might be – but this will depend on the data nearer the time.”

The First Minister also highlighted that the Scottish Government will be “driven much more by data than dates.”
On the back of yesterday’s statement, ASVA and ALVA have put forward a submission to the Scottish Emergency Response Group (STERG) requesting a review of the levels of financial support offered to our sector through the Strategic Framework Business Fund (SFBF). In the submission we call on the Scottish Government to recognise the impact that ongoing travel restrictions will have on our sector and to provide continual financial support for as long as restrictions impact our industry’s ability to trade at a viable level.

You can read the First Minister’s statement in full at this link.

Our friends at the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) have shared with ASVA their latest wave of public sentiment research they commissioned with Steve Mills of Decision House. It follows similar sentiment tracker research conducted last Spring and Summer to measure the changing public mood about the nature of the UK epidemic, and to gauge the effect on people’s optimism of the successful roll-out of the vaccine programme. ALVA have highlighted to us that the latest research has been modified to increase the numbers of people interviewed in Scotland, so we would highly recommend that ASVA members take the time to review the results.
Highlights from the research include:

  • Over half our audience has begun to return to at least some attractions since the end of the first lockdown, but visits have primarily been to outdoor sites – members, families and young people most confident
  • Confidence around visiting attractions is now more polarised compared with the first lockdown – whilst more will return quickly, there has been even greater growth in the segment unlikely to visit for a long time
  • Indeed, around 40% feel less positive about visiting than they did during the first lockdown (18% feel more positive), with the impact of the virus now feeling greater for many – high infection rates, new variants etc.
  • Concerns around distancing remain the focal point – pre-visit reassurance around limiting capacity (via pre-booking) and the ability to control distancing in practice will continue to be vital. The market is now much more accepting of mandatory mask wearing
  • But when re-opening again, we need to remember that there are growing numbers who are questioning the value of the experience – we need to try to offer as full / normal a visit as possible
  • With that in mind, it is important to note that anxiety around using facilities at attractions, while still high for many indoor facilities, is easing slightly – apart from interactives and audio guides
  • The advent of vaccines is beginning to have some positive impact upon attraction visiting prospects, although this will be limited until the market feels that rollout to the wider population is complete
  • In the short term, the impact of the vaccine is mainly in encouraging the fearful to at least consider a visit – moving people from ‘unlikely to visit for a long time’ to ‘wait and see what happens for a short while’
  • As it stands, attractions are unlikely to see short term rapid increases in visits driven by a vaccination rollout – the impact of having the first vaccine dose increases the proportion saying they will visit any attraction from 44% to 48%, although the impact is greater (+7%) among those aged 55 or over
  • There has been some growth in empathy with the plight of attractions – the lead up to reopening may be the optimum time to play on this altruistic message again
  • There has also been increasing confidence around use of public transport to travel to attractions

You can view the full report here. We would like to thank Bernard and the team at ALVA for sharing this information with ASVA.

This week the Scottish Government launch a new Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Project Fund. If you are a zoo or aquarium in Scotland and are experiencing financial hardship which is specifically affecting your conservation projects, you may be able to apply for a grant of up to £400,000 per project to continue them.
The eligibility criteria are:

  • the project is for the conservation benefit of native Scottish species
  • the project is for promoting or developing understanding of scientific matters
  • all reasonable actions have been taken to minimise costs while maintaining conservation project objectives such as the coronavirus job retention scheme, business rates holiday, tax deferral, statutory sick pay rebate, etc
  • the project has budget monitoring and forecasting
  • the organisation is in possession of a current full licence or dispensation under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981, or have been inspected and granted an exemption under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 due to your small size

Applications will be accepted until Wednesday 10 March.

For more information, click here.

We are conscious that some ASVA members, including those within our Trade Membership, will not be eligible for the Visitor Attraction Support Fund. We would therefore highlight that the Local Authority Discretionary Fund, a fund which was set up to help businesses in Scotland who have not been eligible for previous business support grants, has been doubled from £60 million to £120 million.

This fund is managed by individual local authorities and funds are issued at their discretion. They will assess which businesses have not received support until now and are most in need. 

Please check your own local authority website for more details of which businesses can get support through this fund.

For more information about the fund and links to the relevant webpages on your local authority website, please click here.

The latest ASVA Visitor Attractions Barometer report for November 2020 is available to view in the Members Area of this website, in the Statistics, Surveys and Research section.

Overall visitor numbers are down by 77.8% for the month when compared to December 2019 and the sector is down 72.8% for the full year (Jan-Dec). With the continued tightening of restrictions through the Scottish Government’s Strategic Framework and ‘levels’ system, most attractions were heavily impacted by travel restrictions and indeed many did not open at all in the month of December (thus so many attractions reporting figures of ‘down 100%’ in the report). Unsurprisingly, for those that did remain open, outdoor sites generally performed  better than most other types of attractions, as they were less impacted by restrictions, e.g. Outdoor/Nature attractions were down 26.1% and Gardens were 45.3% down, which is comparatively good performance when placed alongside Museums & Galleries (down 91.8%) and Castles/Forts (down 92.9%).

Figures for January 2021 will be collated soon and the Barometer report will be made available to ASVA members in early March.  A full report for the 2020 year will also be forthcoming later next month.

We would encourage all ASVA members to participate in the monthly data collection exercise to ensure that we build up as complete a picture as possible of industry performance. If you so wish, you can submit your data for the report and request that your numbers remain confidential.

To ensure that your attraction is included in both the monthly and annual reports, please contact Hugh Sheridan at the Moffat Centre – hugh.sheridan@gcu.ac.uk or 0141 273 1611