Outdoor attractions fare better as pandemic sends tourist numbers plunging

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The pandemic has led to fewer people visiting Scotland’s tourist hotspots as visitors make the most of outdoor attractions.

At Edinburgh Castle, tourist numbers have fallen from over two million in 2019 to 423,866 in 2021 – a drop of more than 80% – with Edinburgh Zoo taking the top spot in the paid attractions ranking, with 632 122 visitors last year, according to the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA).

The zoo has seen visitor numbers rise 15% from before the pandemic, joining only Highland Wildlife Park near Aviemore, to see their visitor numbers higher in 2021 than in 2019 in the list .

Scotland’s main free attraction was the National Museum of Scotland, which had 660,741 visitors in 2021. This was a drop of just over 70% from figures in 2019, when it attracted nearly of 1.3 million tourists.

Across Scotland, paid attractions saw over nine million visitors in 2021, down from over 20 million in 2019, a 55% decline, while free sites had just over 20.2 million visitors last year compared to 35.5 million in 2019; a drop of just over 43%.

Gordon Morrison, chief executive of ASVA, said that while visitor numbers in 2021 were up from the previous year, “the latest figures highlight the particularly difficult period that the tourist attractions sector and the wider tourism industry have experienced over the past 12 months”. .

Across Scotland’s free and paid attractions, visitor numbers were down more than 47% from pre-pandemic levels last year, according to data compiled by ASVA, in conjunction with the Moffat Center for Travel and Tourism Development at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Morrison said the figures showed “clear evidence that our sector has been extremely hard hit for a significantly prolonged period due to the consequences of the pandemic”.

He added: “While we have seen some very welcome positive signs that business at a number of attractions is beginning to rebound, many of our operators are still in survival mode, and the vast majority, unfortunately, still faces a very long road to recovery.”

Professor John Lennon, director of the Moffat Centre, has warned Scottish tourist attractions will not see overseas visitor numbers return to pre-pandemic levels until 2025.

““Business recovery will very much depend on Scottish and UK custom,” he said.

“Visiting Scotland’s attractions not only demonstrates their support, but also helps safeguard the future of a sector which is a vital contributor to the country’s economy and also plays a crucial guardian role in the protection of heritage, culture and identity of Scotland.”

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