News

All businesses involved in Scotland’s tourism industry are being asked to take part in a comprehensive study of current economic conditions. Launched recently by the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA), the in-depth survey of challenges and opportunities for all industry sectors aims to collate insights into the ongoing and future commercial viability of the country’s tourism businesses, viewed through the lens of the cost of living crisis and the impact of rising energy bills.

The research exercise, the most comprehensive ever undertaken by the STA, is targeted at every category and all sizes of organisation across Scottish tourism. The survey questions focus on challenges around staffing and recruitment, where businesses are on their journey towards Net Zero, what policies are helping or hindering recovery, current and future bookings from an international and domestic perspective, global competitiveness, and where businesses are in relation to their recovery.

The STA emphasises that the anonymous survey, the results of which will be used to inform its ongoing interactions with UK and Scottish Government Ministers, is vital in order to ‘glean an accurate picture of the industry to enable us to influence change and steer it on the right path to realising our tourism strategy vision’. Scotland’s Tourism Strategy, Scotland Outlook 2030, was launched in 2020, just a few weeks prior to the outbreak of the pandemic. Setting out a vision for Scotland to be ‘the leaders in 21st century tourism’, its ambition continues to propel industry activities and focus recovery efforts.

Comprising 40 questions, the survey should take around 20 minutes to complete, and it will remain open until 6 June at 12pm. Please complete the survey here.

The latest ASVA Visitor Attractions Barometer report, for March 2022, is now available to view in the Members Area of our website.

Comparing the March 2022 figures with those for the same month in 2021 is still largely irrelevant for the majority of attractions, or at least certainly those whose primary activity is indoors. Most of Scotland remained in Level 4 during March 2021 so virtually all indoor attractions across the country were closed for the entire month. A number of outdoor attractions were open and were trading well, but the overall picture was that the majority of the sector was unable to trade. Against that backdrop, reporting an increase in visitor numbers in March ‘22 of over 356% when compared to March ’21, does not provide us with an accurate picture of where the sector is at in terms of consolidation and recovery so far this year.

It is only when we analyse the 2022 figures against those of 2019 that we can get a more accurate picture. Comparing March ’22 with March ’19 overall across ASVA attractions, visitor numbers were 22.3% down for the month and 33.3% down for the year to date. These are actually the most encouraging set of figures that have been reported since the pandemic struck in March 2020, reflecting the cautious optimism that the sector has been feeling about the start of the main season so far this year. Of course, had there been no pandemic and had we been reporting visitor numbers down by a third for the year, this would be viewed as a crisis, rather than as something to be optimistic about! This shows that the ‘recovery’ – if we can call it that – is very fragile indeed and for many within the sector, 2022 will be a year of consolidation at best. Better than the dark days of restrictions and lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, but not yet coming near the high watermark of 2019.

It is also worth noting that sectoral performance is still patchy, with outdoor operators, such as Wildlife Attractions (up 43%) and Nature Attractions (up 56%), considerably outperforming other parts of the sector. Numbers have yet to bounce back by any significant margin in others, for example, Museums & Galleries (down by 45%) and Distilleries & Breweries (down by 52%).

The main take-away from the March data is that there is a long way to go before we can talk of a full recovery for the attractions sector in Scotland. In our ongoing dialogue with the Scottish Government and STERG, ASVA continues to highlight this and emphasise the challenges we face that are impacting recovery – including recruitment, rising costs of doing business and, of course, the ever-developing cost of living crisis.

The launch this week of a fund to drive sustainable travel in Scotland’s tourism industry aims to rev up the country’s network of electric vehicle (EV) charge points. The new Electric Vehicle Charge Point Tourism Recovery Fund will enable tourism businesses to apply for funding to support the installation of EV charge points on their premises, improving access across the country and encouraging responsible tourism practices.

The new £325k fund will support the installation of 100 charge points by providing businesses with up to 75% of installation costs. It is being administered by Energy Saving Trust on behalf of VisitScotland and the Scottish Government, and is open to all tourism businesses classed as SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises).

The new fund is part of the Destination Net Zero programme, which aims to support businesses and destinations as they transition to a future of Net Zero emissions. The programme is being delivered on behalf of the Scottish Tourism Emergency Response Group (STERG) by Scottish Enterprise (SE), VisitScotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), South of Scotland Enterprise (SoSE) and partners.

Electric vehicles, which are becoming increasingly popular due to their lower running costs, are a crucial step in decarbonising the transport system, improving air quality, and contributing to Scotland’s climate target of achieving Net Zero emissions by 2045. The number of new electric vehicles in the UK has increased significantly in recent years. As of March, 22.2% of new vehicles were electric, bringing the number of electric vehicles on the road to more than 700,000. While 72% of Scotland residents currently use petrol/diesel cars when taking breaks and holidays in this country, VisitScotland research revealed that 43% are interested in changing to electric/hybrid “within the next few years”. In addition to the vehicle prices, fears about insufficiency of charging points is the main obstacle to car-owners ‘going electric’ sooner. The UK currently has more than 50,000 EV charge points, in 18,000 locations, with 10% in Scotland which has the highest number of public charge points by population.

VisitScotland is keen to encourage businesses in areas where EV charge points are limited to apply to the Electric Vehicle Charge Point Tourism Recovery Fund, which will provide a one-off payment to tourism businesses towards the installation of an EV charge point. As limited funding is available, allocations will be made to applicants meeting the criteria on a first-come, first-served basis. Applications will close on 8 September (or sooner if all the funding is allocated before this date).

VisitScotland Director of Industry & Destination Development, and STERG Chair, Rob Dickson, said: “Tackling climate change is the biggest challenge facing Scottish tourism now and in the future, and we want to inspire future generations to say that Scottish tourism led the way and made a difference. This fund will enable businesses to position sustainability at the heart of their recovery and ensure their offering will make it easier for visitors to make environmentally-conscious travel decisions. By working together, we can help Scotland become a world-class destination, and the best destination for responsible tourism. Taking action on climate change will not only reduce costs and build resilience, but it will meet the increasing consumer demand for responsible and sustainably focused businesses.”

Details on the Electric Vehicle Charge Point Tourism Recovery Fund, including criteria guidance and details of how to apply, can be found here.

With both the Easter Holidays and legal covid restrictions now behind us, ASVA would like to take this opportunity to review where the sector currently finds itself, to establish confidence levels in the year ahead, how the beginning of the season has been and what members see as the main challenges ahead.

Working with our partners at the Moffat Centre for Travel & Tourism, we would be grateful if you could take a few minutes to complete our latest sector wide survey, the results of which will be summarised and shared across the membership, both in report format on the ASVA website and for discussion at our latest Members Meetup, taking place on Tuesday 31st of May (details of this event to follow in due course). And, of course, the results will be used to help inform ASVA in our ongoing lobbying and advocacy work, both through STERG and directly with the Scottish and UK Governments.

Please complete the survey (which should take no longer than 10 minutes) at this link by no later than 5pm on Friday 13 May.

HIT Scotland is running a second phase of the highly successful Tourism and Hospitality Talent Development Programme. The programme offers four different standalone one-day modules, specifically designed for those working in Scotland’s tourism and hospitality industries, to improve leadership, performance and engagement. Applications for this excellent skills and personal development opportunity close on Sunday, 1 May at midnight.

Prospective applicants are advised to read all of the programme specifics carefully to ensure they are eligible, can provide the correct information required, and understand what the programme entails before they apply to take part in the programme. This will offer 380 places, with 20 groups of 19 people able to take part in one of the sessions. (The number of groups for each course will depend on demand.)
 
Individuals can only apply for, and take part in, one module, which are as follows:

  • Extraordinary Leadership – Building Trust & Developing Resilience
  • Extraordinary Leadership – Conflict Resolution
  • Extraordinary Performance – Getting Things Done
  • Extraordinary Engagement – Developing a Coaching Culture

A number of dates from 25 May through to 15 June are available for the courses, and prospective applicants need to note all that they would be able to attend on their application form so they can be assigned one of the dates if their application is successful.

You can find full details of the Tourism and Hospitality Talent Development Programme, and information on how to apply by 1 May, here.

The latest ASVA Visitor Attractions Barometer report, for February 2022, is now available to view in the Members Area of our website.

As noted when the first Barometer report of the year was published last month, due to the covid disruptions of the last 2 years, ASVA has decided to produce two reports per month to give you the best possible insights available. This report will compare 2022 figures for February with those of February last year, a year when covid disruption was still very much the norm. As a result, a second report has also been produced, comparing figures from 2022 with those of 2019, the last ‘normal’ year of trading for the sector.

Comparing February 2022 figures to those of February 2021, is virtually meaningless for the majority of attractions, or at least certainly for indoor attractions. For the month of February 2021, most of Scotland remained in Level 4 and therefore virtually all indoor attractions across the country were closed for the entire month. A number of outdoor attrarctions were open, and unsurprisingly, were trading well considering the lack of alternatives venues to attend, but the overall picture was one of ongoing closure and frustration for the sector. Therefore, the fact that visitor numbers in February ‘22 are up by 645% when compared to those of Feb ’21, by no means at all provides us with any indication of the ‘recovery’ of the attractions sector. 

It is only when we analyse the 2022 figures against those of 2019, that we can clearly see to what stage the recovery has started, or indeed if it has truly started at all. Looking at the numbers for February ’22, when compared to those of February ’19, it is immediately obvious that, overall, the sector has some way to go before we can say that we have genuinely entered into a recovery phase.  Overall, across ASVA attractions, visitor figures were down by 37.2% for the month and down 39% for the year to date. This was, of course, a month where omicron nervousness amongst the general public was still relatively and the Scottish Government messaging was still very cautionary when it came to advising the public about going out and undertaking activities, particularly if those activities were indoors. A considerable number of attractions were also maintaining their own covid measures, some of which limited the number of visitors at various sites, and this too undoubtedly is reflected in some of the figures that can be seen in the report.

What can clearly be surmised from the February figures is that we are, at very best, in the very early, very fragile, stages of recovery. In our ongoing dialogue with the Scottish Government and STERG, ASVA will continue to highlight the fragile state the sector is in, as well as the challenging conditions we face impacting on the recovery, including the ever-rising costs of doing business. 

We would encourage all ASVA members to participate in the monthly and annual data collection exercises to ensure we build up as complete a picture as possible of industry performance. If you wish, you can submit your data requesting that your numbers remain confidential. Through our colleagues at Glasgow Caledonian University’s Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism Development we are currently collecting data from members for the Annual Report and we would urge all members to complete this exercise, as the information you provide greatly strengthens ASVA’s ability to advocate on the sector’s behalf.

For more information, and to ensure that your attraction is included in both the monthly and annual reports, please get in touch with The Moffat Centre’s Hugh Sheridan at hugh.sheridan@gcu.ac.uk or on 0141 273 1611.

The Scottish Thistle Awards are making a welcome return for 2022/23 to shine a spotlight on Scottish tourism’s outstanding businesses and all those who work in them. We hope that as many ASVA attraction members as possible will enter the Best Visitor Attraction Experience category, or be nominated in it, so they can be celebrated appropriately!

Being involved in the prestigious Scottish Thistle Awards presents attractions throughout the country with a great opportunity to raise their profile and recognise the outstanding efforts of their teams – which is especially important in these challenging times for our sector.

Regional winners of the Best Visitor Attraction Experience category will be announced at five regional awards ceremonies. They will then be in the running for the Great Days Out Award – whose winner will be voted for by readers of The Scottish Sun and declared at the national finals of the Scottish Thistle Awards in February 2023. The special readers’ award has been created as a result of a media partnership between VisitScotland and leading media business News Scotland. The national tourism organisation established the partnership with the business – which publishes The Scottish Sun, The Times and Sunday Times Scotland – to drive public awareness of the Scottish Thistle Awards 2022/23. News Scotland is supporting two awards: the visitor attraction experiences’ Great Days Out Award and The Best Luxury Experience Award.

Attractions can either enter themselves in the Best Visitor Attraction Experience category, or be nominated by someone. You can find details of how to enter or submit a nomination here.

The latest ASVA Visitor Attractions Barometer report, providing January 2022 visitor figures, is now available to view in the Members Area of our website.

This year, in consultation with The Moffat Centre, we decided to produce two reports per month to give our members the best possible insights available. The new report compares January 2022 and 2021 figures. With considerable restrictions still in place, 2021 was far from normal and at the start of the year much of mainland Scotland was under ‘Level 4’ restrictions, resulting in the enforced closure of most attractions. We therefore produced a second report to compare figures from 2022 with those of 2019, the last ‘normal’ year of trading for the sector.

Whilst Omicron-related measures and messaging were in place, January 2021 was still a far better month than the sector had experienced in 2020 when the majority of attractions were fully closed. The overall figure of +338.4% on the surface appears to show a widespread recovery for our sector, with almost all areas and all attraction types reporting significantly increased visitation. This, however, presents a distorted picture and comparing the figures with those of 2019 reveals that January 2022 was an incredibly difficult month for the sector. Omicron measures – and Scottish Government messaging advising the public should only meet outdoors where possible – severely restricted visitor numbers, with figures being 42.4% down on 2019. Unsurprisingly, the only attraction types that reported significantly better figures were outdoor/nature attractions (overall reporting a healthy +71.7% on 2019 figures). 

This is why it’s hugely important that for this year, at the very least, we continue to report figures compared, not only with the year before, but also with 2019. It’s only by analysing results with those prior to the pandemic that we can assess if there is indeed any recovery taking place for our bruised and battered industry. 

We would encourage all ASVA members to participate in the monthly and annual data collection exercises to ensure we build up a picture of industry performance that’s as complete as possible. If you wish, you can submit your data requesting that your numbers remain confidential. Through our colleagues at the Moffat Centre, we are currently collecting data from members for the Annual Report, and we’d urge all members to complete this exercise, as information you provide greatly strengthens ASVA’s ability to advocate on the sector’s behalf.

For more information, and to ensure your attraction is included in both the monthly and annual reports, please get in touch with The Moffat Centre’s Hugh Sheridan at hugh.sheridan@gcu.ac.uk or on 0141 273 1611.

Headline figures for our annual Scottish Visitor Attractions Monitor, produced for ASVA by Glasgow Caledonian University’s Moffat Centre for Travel & Tourism Business Development, have been shared today.

Overall, last year’s visitor numbers were down over 47% on pre-pandemic levels. Paid-entry attractions welcomed just over 9 million visitors during 2021 compared to over 20 million in 2019 (a drop of 55%), whilst free venues had just over 20.2 million visitors last year compared to 35.5 million in 2019 (a drop of just over 43%). 

Outdoor, family-themed attractions, and sites with grounds and open-air activities, fared much better in general than predominantly indoor sites – reflecting continued consumer anxieties about infection transmission risks in enclosed spaces. The most visited paid-entry attraction in 2021 was Edinburgh Zoo, with 632,122 visitors, whilst perennial top free attraction – the National Museum of Scotland – was the year’s top free attraction once again, with 660,741 visitors. A drop in visitors of more than 1.5 million, when compared to 2019 figures, however, illustrates that it was a very challenging year for this iconic venue, as it was for virtually all indoor attractions.

As members will know only too well, indoor attractions were hit hard by having to undergo periods of closure and stop-start trading last year, and COVID restrictions such as physical distancing meant many were either unable to resume their operations fully or had to limit capacities for much of the main season. Figures from attractions that offer primarily indoor experiences reveal the extent to which their visitor numbers have been decimated during the past two years. Stirling Castle, for example, had 148,581 visitors in 2021 – an 88.1% increase from its 2020 total of 79,000 – however it saw a 75.6% decrease from its 2019 total of 609,698. Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum had 288,212 visitors in 2021, an 84.3% drop from its 2019 pre-pandemic total of 1,832,097.

ASVA CEO, Gordon Morrison, said: “The 2021 figures highlight what a uniquely challenging time attractions have experienced. This latest data provides clear evidence that our sector has been hit extremely hard for a considerably extended period of time due to the pandemic. Whilst we’ve seen some very welcome positive signs that business at a number of attractions is beginning to bounce back, so many of our operators are still in survival mode, and the vast majority unfortunately still face a very long road ahead to recovery.”

ASVA has long been lobbying the UK and Scottish Governments for additional assistance to stimulate recovery within the sector, advocating measures including the retention of the reduced level of VAT for attractions, as well as a continuation of 100% business rates relief. More recently, we have been strongly advocating for a second round of the VisitScotland-administered Days Out Incentivisation scheme. Created to stimulate domestic market visitation, the initiative’s positive impact was unfortunately impeded by the emergence of the Omicron COVID variant and the resultant return of government guidance regarding transmission risks in public spaces.

Gordon went on to say: “The major impact of the continued lack of an international audience is reflected in the figures we see today. Forecasts indicate that overseas visitor numbers won’t return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024/2025 so attractions will continue to be heavily reliant on the domestic market, and business recovery will depend on that. We need to promote the fact that with fewer overseas visitors, there’s never been a better time for Scottish and UK residents to discover and explore the world-class visitor attractions on their doorstep. Visitors can take advantage of the uniquely quieter conditions with more space to enjoy attractions at leisure, and they’ll have the opportunity to enjoy more in-depth, personalised interactions with visitor services staff. There really are many more opportunities now to benefit from a truly enriched, immersive visitor experience.”

For the Scottish Visitor Attractions Monitor, 646 attraction operators provided their visitor figures for 2022, together with comparable pre-pandemic 2019 statistics. Key results from the report were as follows:

Attraction             2021 Visitors       2019 Visitors         Difference                    % Difference

Free                       20,206,442           35,551,821           – 15,345,379                         – 43.2%
Paid entry               9,079,189           20,167,719           – 11,088,530                          – 55.0% 
Total                       29,285,631          55,719,540            – 26,434,909                         – 47.4%

The full report will be published in the coming weeks and will be made available to ASVA members in the Members area of our website.  In the meantime, the top ten list of free and paid attractions in 2022 can be found here.

In her latest COVID update to the Scottish Parliament yesterday (Tuesday, 15 March), First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that the laws on wearing face coverings in Scotland will not now be lifted next week on 21 March, as had been planned. People will be required to continue to wear face masks in indoor public settings – including indoor attractions as well as on public transport – until at least 4 April. Remaining legal requirements, including the requirement for venues to collect contact details for customers in certain settings, with however be lifted on Monday.  

The announcement on the postponement of the lifting of face covering regulations was made against the backdrop of a surge in COVID cases in recent weeks; the latest figures are not far off the peak seen last January. Ms Sturgeon advised that the short extension of the rules is a precautionary move to help us through the current high numbers of cases. She said: “Ensuring continued widespread use of face coverings will provide some additional protection – particularly for the most vulnerable – at a time when the risk of infection is very high, and it may help us get over this spike more quickly.

Ms Sturgeon will make a further statement to the Scottish Parliament in two weeks’ time when, she advised, it is hoped the face mask regulation will be converted to guidance. In the meantime, the public are urged to continue following all advice on hygiene, ventilation, vaccination, and testing (which will remain free in Scotland).
The First Minister also advised that, from 18 April, people without COVID symptoms will no longer be asked to take regular lateral flow tests. This development is part of the Test and Protect Transition Plan, which sets out how testing will become more targeted. The changes to Test and Protect mean that, from 18 April:

  • most people without symptoms will no longer be asked to take tests
  • free lateral flow devices (LFDs) for the purposes of twice-weekly routine testing will no longer be available for the general population given the changing advice, but will continue to be free for any purpose for which testing continues to be advised
  • vaccinated close contacts of someone with COVID should continue to test daily for seven days using LFDs
  • until the end of April, people with symptoms should still isolate and get a PCR test
  • PCR tests will still be able to be booked in the usual way until 30 April. From that date, test sites will close and people with symptoms will no longer be advised that they need to seek a test. The public health advice for people who feel unwell will be to stay at home until they feel better, to reduce the risk of infecting other people.

You can read the First Minister’s full statement here.  

Our sister organisation, ALVA – the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions – has just shared with ASVA the findings of its most recent research into visitor sentiment across the UK. Undertaken for ALVA by consultancy Decision House, this latest research wave was carried out during the February half-term. As always, a big thank you to ALVA for providing us with this information freely, thus enabling our members to benefit from its latest industry data and insights.

Of particular interest to our attraction members will be the research’s key findings concerning consumers’ continued concerns about safety and how they feel about whether COVID-mitigating measures should be continued – an issue that is very pertinent as Scottish attractions plan ahead for arrangements post 21 March when requirements for face coverings are lifted.

ALVA’s research revealed that two-thirds of consumers still feel less comfortable about visiting an attraction than they did before the pandemic, and overall, the findings clearly support the continuation of at least some protective measures. The report highlights that more people would be encouraged to visit attractions if mitigating measures are in place than would be put off visiting if these are present. Key findings related to safety measures included:

  • Small minorities of visitors (around 10% for indoor attractions) have anxieties strong enough to prevent them from visiting an attraction – a very positive shift since summer 2021. There is now an overriding sense that the time has come to return to visiting attractions.
  • Ongoing consumer nervousness is still apparent however, with around 40% still expressing concerns about visiting attractions – mainly centred upon continued anxiety about crowds.
  • Many caveat a desire to return with a need (and sometimes, expectation) for some safety measures to be retained. Indeed, over 40% of the market still disagrees that all COVID safety measures should be removed.
  • There is however a growing proportion of consumers pushing back against some of the more onerous measures (pre-booking, mask wearing and proof of vaccination status) to the extent that these are a barrier to them visiting.
  • General encouragement of pre-booking, or perhaps compulsory pre-booking during busy periods, now appears a more sustainable strategy than blanket compulsory pre-booking.
  • It feels like the market still needs the ‘safety blanket’ of some overt COVID measures, even if these are primarily signals to demonstrate that an attraction has the best interests of its visitors at heart, and messaging around respecting fellow visitors.
  • In deciding upon measures to retain and remove, we perhaps now need to change the question from ‘which measures keep our visitors safest?’ to ‘which measures least impact upon the experience?’

You can access the research report here.

We are pleased to advise that the VisitScotland administered Top-Up of the Visitor Attractions Support Fund is now live.

As we’ve emphasised in previous communications, attraction operators do not need to take any action initially to apply for this fund. If you were a previous recipient of the Visitor Attractions Support Fund in 2021, VisitScotland will proactively contact you in the coming days to confirm a few basic details which will enable top-up funding to be allocated.

Each eligible attraction will receive a one-off top-up payment of £6,800 through the fund.

For more details about the fund, please click here. If you have any queries about your eligibility or on any other matters relating to the fund, please e-mail grantawards@visitscotland.com.