Scotland is a well-developed tourist destination, with tourism generally being responsible for sustaining 200,000 jobs mainly in the service sector, with tourist spending averaging at £4bn per year. In 2013, for example, UK visitors made 18.5 million visits to Scotland, staying 64.5 million nights and spending £3.7bn. In contrast, overseas residents made 1.58 million visits to Scotland, staying 15 million nights and spending £806m. In terms of overseas visitors, those from the United States made up 24% of visits to Scotland, with the United States being the largest source of overseas visitors, and Germany (9%), France (8%), Canada (7%) and Australia (6%), following behind.
Scotland is generally seen as a destination with beautiful scenery combined with thousands of historic sites and attractions. These include prehistoric stone circles, standing stones and burial chambers, and various Bronze Age, Iron Age and Stone Age remains. There are also many historic castles, houses, and battlegrounds, ruins and museums. Many people are drawn by the culture of Scotland.
The main tourist season is generally from April to October. In addition to these factors, the national tourist agency, VisitScotland, have deployed a strategy of niche marketing, aimed at exploiting, amongst other things, Scotland's strengths in golf, fishing and food and drink tourism.
Like all of the UK, Scotland was negatively impacted by the restrictions and lockdowns necessitated by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Tourism has particularly suffered. In October 2020, the Scottish Tourism Alliance made this comment: "The devastating impact of this pandemic will make recovery incredibly challenging, if not questionable, without the assurance of continued targeted support from both the Scottish and UK Governments". The First Minister acknowledged the setbacks that the hospitality/tourism sector had already experienced in a March 2021 speech when she announced financial support for the industry. "It's been an incredibly difficult year for all businesses" and added that she did not "underestimate the acute challenges our tourism and hospitality sectors have faced".
Most reports that provide statistics on the impact of the pandemic on tourism cover the entire UK as an entity, although some do provide specifics for Scotland. VisitBritain in April 2021, stated that the travel restrictions and lockdowns in the UK led to a 76% reduction in "inbound tourism" to the UK in 2020 and forecast for 2021 indicated an estimated that visits would be up "21% on 2020 but only 29% of the 2019 level". An increase in visits was expected but slowly at first and the report concluded that tourism was not expected to come "even close to normal levels".
The VisitBritain report in April 2021 discussed the effects of the pandemic on domestic within the UK in 2020, citing a significant reduction in spending, for an estimated decline of 62% over the previous year. As of January 2021, the forecast for 2021 suggested that spending would increase by 79% over the previous year and that "the value of spending will be back to 84% of 2019 levels" by the end of 2021.
A report published in March 2021 by the Fraser of Allander Institute at the University of Strathclyde indicated that in the UK, "tourism and hospitality suffered notable losses from the pandemic" and provided detailed specifics for both domestic and international visits. This report also reviewed the Scottish hospitality industry in great detail; the situation was not yet optimistic at that time, with "no sign of a trend reversal with more than 70% of businesses in the sector reporting lower turnover than usual".
The Scottish Tourism Alliance Task Force published its recommendations in October 2020, with "Immediate Actions" for both the Scottish government and the UK government. The group particularly requested support for the tourism/hospitality industry, including financial grants, the funding of marketing for the sector, and a "temporary removal of Air Passenger Duty to boost route competitiveness". On 24 March 2021, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a £25 million tourism recovery programme "to support the industry for the next 6 months to two years". Sturgeon also reminded the hospitality/tourism industry that the government had provided "over £129 million" in support "for this sector".
On 5 April 2021, the BBC published specifics about domestic tourism in the UK indicating that the restrictions were to be loosened during that month, at least for domestic travel within Scotland, Wales and England. Travel within mainland Scotland was expected to be permitted again starting on 26 April. A survey in March 2021 indicated that roughly 70% of the 500 Scots surveyed were hoping to "have a holiday at home this year". The BBC recommended such "staycationing" but reminded readers that travel to "Scotland's islands or across the border at Gretna and Berwick" might not be possible for some time.
The VisitBritain website discussed the UK's "COVID-19 restrictions" that were expected to be loosened in April but indicated that there was no confirmation as to whether the rules on international travel, either inbound or outbound, would actually be loosened in mid-May.
It was possible that the UK's plan to loosen restrictions on inbound tourists would not commence as early as planned. On 8 April 2021 sources in the European Union stated that a "third wave of the pandemic [was sweeping] the continent". (Two days earlier, PM Boris Johnson had made it clear that "We don't want to see the virus being reimported into this country from abroad".) Of particular concern was the B117 variant, a mutation of the virus, "which [was] spreading rapidly in at least 27 European countries".
Most visitors (for any purpose) to Scotland in 2018 came from the following countries:
|Rest of the World||1,102,000|
|Total overseas tourist visits||3,538,000|
Other areas which are popular for tourists include the Highlands and the Hebrides, such as the Isle of Skye. Perthshire, the Scottish Borders and Orkney and Shetland are also popular tourism destinations.
Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the United Kingdom, but there are many other significant mountains in Scotland. However, by international standards, all the mountains are relatively small. The Cuillin on the Isle of Skye offer some challenging climbs, such as the Inaccessible Pinnacle.
Scotland also has some amusement parks. One such park is M&D's in the town of Motherwell, North Lanarkshire.
Scotland also has many lochs, including Loch Lomond, and Loch Ness, which is considered by some to be the home of the Loch Ness monster. There are also many rivers, which are good for salmon and fly fishing. These include the Tay, Tweed, Don, and Dee.
Scotland's best known export is Scotch Whisky and numerous visitors a year enjoy a tour around its Whisky distilleries. The Highlands is by far the largest region in Scotland both in area and in whisky production. This massive area has over 30 distilleries on the mainland. When the Islands sub-region is included, the total number of distilleries is 47.  The nearby Speyside area has the largest number of distilleries of any district in the country, which includes: Aberlour, Balvenie, Cardhu, Cragganmore, Dalwhinnie, Glenfarclas, Glenglassaugh, Glenfiddich, Speyburn, The Macallan, The Glenlivet, and The Glenrothes. Distilleries are the third most visited attractions in Scotland; roughly 2 million visits were recorded in 2018. Some 68 distilleries operate visitors' centres in Scotland and another eight accept visits by appointment. Hotels, restaurants and other facilities are also impacted by the tourism phenomenon. The tourism has had an especially visible impact on the economy in some remote rural areas.
Scotland is a popular destination for hunting, especially deer and grouse.
Scotland is also the home of golf, with many historic and famous courses including, St Andrews, Gleneagles, Royal Troon, Carnoustie, and Muirfield. There are hundreds of other courses in the country.
From mid-March to mid-July, COVID-19 triggered a near-total shutdown in international tourism ... there was an increase in visitor numbers from this low point, although they remained very low, and dipped again towards the end of the year.Check date values in: