News

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.

The Museums Recovery Fund opened yesterday (2 February) to accredited and non-accredited independent museums thanks to the further £1 million funding from the Scottish Government. Independent museums in need of support to operate and adapt in response to the challenges and opportunities arising from the pandemic can apply for grants of a size determined by their operating costs, up to £90,000. The grants be used to support:

  • core operating costs
  • activity to recover visitor numbers and spend including marketing, special events and restart costs
  • activity to assist the implementation of new business priorities and increase resilience

The Fund is open to applications until 5pm on Friday, 11 March but potential applicants should note that, before starting to complete an online application and prior to 5pm on Friday 25 February, they are required to register their intention to apply by emailing the Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS) Grants team at grants@museumsgalleriesscotland.org.uk. They will then be provided with advice on the suitability of proposals and how to make the most effective case for funding. Prospective applicants should also note that non-accredited museums that haven’t previously applied to MGS for funding will firstly need to submit an eligibility questionnaire by Friday 18 February. Further information on the Museums Recovery Fund and guidance on how apply can be found here.

The Museums Capital Fund is still open to all accredited and non-accredited museums to support the capital costs of projects that will have a demonstrable impact on the attractions’ long-term resilience. Potential applicants must contact the MGS Grants Team by 5pm, Friday 4 February with an outline of their proposal. The fund will close on 14 February and queries on it can be addressed to grants@museumsgalleriesscotland.org.uk.


This week details of a financial package worth up to £9 million for Scotland’s vital tourism sector were confirmed by Tourism Minister Ivan McKee MSP.

The funding package is to be administered by VisitScotland and will be split between affected businesses including visitor attractions. The emergency funding is being allocated to support businesses for cancellations and loss of business suffered due to Omicron in December and January.

Mr McKee said the support aims “to help ease the impacts of the pandemic on Scotland’s world-class tourism sector and ensure that affected businesses can survive what is clearly an especially tough winter period and be ready to trade fully in the spring and summer months.” He added: “We know this won’t cover all losses and will continue to press the UK Government for more comprehensive support.”

ASVA understands that the application process for the fund will be very simple and straightforward to ensure that monies will be distributed expediently. More details of both the funding amount that attractions can expect and the mechanism for receiving the funding will be announced in the upcoming days. ASVA will, of course, advise our members as soon as the information is available.

ASVA CEO Gordon Morrison said: “ASVA has pushed hard to ensure that those attractions impacted by Omicron will benefit from emergency support and we are pleased that the Scottish Government has recognised this by allocating funding to visitor attractions. We are, of course, grateful for any support and we acknowledge that this top-up fund will be useful for a number of our members.  However, it is a short-term support fund for a short term issue. The allocated sums expected will not come close to covering the very significant losses our sector has experienced. We will continue to push the Scottish and UK Governments for further support mechanisms to help ensure that our sector can recover fully and lead the wider recovery of Scottish tourism in 2022.”

As we have highlighted in previous E-Updates, other funding streams are also available/planned for businesses affected by Omicron control measures, including a Hospitality fund for cafes/restaurants impacted and an Events fund for any businesses that have experienced event cancellations. ASVA has been advised by the Scottish Government, however, that businesses cannot benefit from multiple funds. Therefore it would not be possible, for example, for an attraction with a café to benefit from both the Visitor Attraction fund and the Hospitality fund.

More details of all the different funding streams can be found here and further information specifically about the tourism support package can be accessed at this link.

The latest ASVA Visitor Attractions Barometer report – for November 2021 – is now available to view in the Members Area of our website.

This report for November provides us with the clearest picture yet of how the industry is faring since Scotland moved ‘beyond level 0’ in August. It is very clear that, despite the fact most restrictions on visitor numbers and travel have been lifted, there has yet to be a wholescale recovery of the attractions sector.  However, the November data is the most encouraging we have seen thus far, with a number of attractions reporting visitor numbers close to or at 2019 levels. Of course, the impact of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 was not fully being felt in November, with the first case of the variant only being reported on the 27th of the month. We very much anticipate the December report will see a further significant downturn in visitation levels across the board as a result of the spread of Omicron.

The picture for November was similar to that seen in October, albeit slightly improved overall. This is likely down to the fact that consumer confidence in visiting attractions continued to rise between October and November, as well as the introduction of the Scottish Government backed Days Out Incentive Fund and VisitScotland Great Days Out Campaign, which provided participating attractions with the opportunity to offer discounted entry to their venues.  Overall visitor numbers across ASVA member attractions were down 35.2% on pre-covid levels in 2019, an upturn of 4% on last month. The year-to-date figure, however, still sees the sector down 63.6% on 2019, therefore, despite the introduction of initiatives such as the Days Out fund, our sector is yet to see any really significant recovery from the impacts of the pandemic. This data will be used by ASVA to ensure that the Scottish Government and other key stakeholders are fully aware of the challenging conditions we continue to operate under, especially with the impact of Omicron now really being felt across the board.   


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

For more information, and to ensure that your attraction is included in both the monthly and annual reports, please get in touch with Hugh Sheridan at The Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism Development. Hugh can be contacted at hugh.sheridan@gcu.ac.uk or 0141 273 1611.

As part of her statement in parliament on 5th January, the First Minister announced that a further £55m will be allocated to businesses being impacted by the pandemic, including an extra £3m to tourism businesses. This follows on from Ms Sturgeon’s statement on 29 December of additional support for businesses, where she committed an extra £107 million targeted funding which included:

  • £32m for hospitality and leisure businesses
  • £27m for culture
  • £10m for hospitality affected by table service
  • £17m for events

ASVA has been in dialogue with the Scottish Government about these funding steams to establish exactly where visitor attractions fit in with this additional funding. Whilst we cannot share any details as yet, we are reassured that the Scottish Government has recognised that visitor attractions have been impacted and support is going to be made available for our sector through various funding streams.

Dialogue continues and we hope to be in a position to provide more information in the upcoming days. What we can say is that it is highly likely that attractions will not be able to benefit from accessing multiple funds at the same time. The advice we have been given thus far is that, whilst multiple funding streams are being made available, businesses will only be able to apply for one fund, i.e. if an attraction applies for support through the Events Fund, it will not be able to apply for any of the other funds. Therefore attractions that could be eligible for multiple funds would be advised to wait until details of the various funding streams are published before applying.


Whist we await more information, we would in the meantime reassure our members that we continue to highlight to the Scottish Government the extent of the financial pressures that many attractions are currently experiencing and the considerable need for funding support for businesses within our sector.

For more information about the targeted funding announced by the First Minister on 29th December, please click here.

In her latest COVID update on 5th January, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced important changes – which will take effect from midnight tonight – to requirements for self-isolation and testing. The developments will, it is hoped, alleviate some of the considerable impact and challenges that businesses are presently coping with as a result of current requirements.

From tomorrow, those who have tested positive have the option to end their self-isolation after seven days, providing they do not have a fever and they record two negative lateral flow tests on the sixth and seventh days. The self-isolation requirement for close (including household) contacts of positive cases has also been removed for children, and for adults who have received three vaccine doses. These contacts should take a lateral flow test every day for seven days. Those who receive a positive lateral flow test will no longer be required to book a PCR test if they do not have symptoms.  

The First Minister said: These changes are significant and they are not completely without risk. However at this stage of the pandemic they do strike an appropriate balance between the continued importance of self-isolation in breaking chains of transmission, and reducing the disruption self-isolation causes in the economy and other critical services.”

Ms Sturgeon advised that at least one in 20 people in Scotland now has the virus, advising: “With a variant as infectious as Omicron, the kind of protections that are still possible within our financial resources and without causing greater harm in other ways – while still very important at this stage – won’t control transmission to the same extent as they would have with other variants. Let me be clear this does not, in my view, mean giving up trying to control it at all – the impact of COVID on individual health and on our collective wellbeing is too significant for that. But it does mean seeking ways of doing so that are more proportionate and sustainable and less restrictive.”

Ms Sturgeon confirmed that the existing protections will continue and that current limits for gathering and hospitality remain in place and are likely to do so until 17 January. You can read her full announcement here.

Following the announcement made by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on Tuesday 21st December regarding the re-introduction of additional mandatory restrictions to combat the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. The Scottish Governmnet has today(23rd December) published updated guidance for the tourism & hospitality sector.

The guidance includes information about the latest measures which are being introduced post-Christmas, including the re-introduction of 1 metre physical distancing within indoor hospitality & leisure venues, including indoor visitor attractions, which will take effect for a period of up to 3 weeks from Monday 27 December.

The guidance also provides further details regarding the re-introduction of table service in hospitality settings on 27th December,  but only for venues serving alcohol for consumption on the premises.

The updated guidance can be found at this link.

Of interest to some members will also be the updated guidance for cultural performances and events, which includes details of the new limits on numbers attending live events, which comes into force on Sunday 26 December. This guidance can be found here.