Newly-published figures from the Great Britain Tourism Survey (GBTS*) confirm a positive performance for January to February 2011 compared with the same period last year, with a 19 per cent increase in trips to Scotland by British residents along with a 20 per cent increase in spend.
Although the figures should be treated with a slight note of caution, given that the weather in January/February 2010 was particularly poor, the three per cent increase in trips taken for holiday purposes, along with a 22 per cent increase in holiday spend, does suggest that consumer confidence may be returning as we move out of recession.
The number of trips which included a visit to friends and relatives (VFR) during this period also rose by some 17 per cent with a 13 per cent rise in spend, however the number of nights spent on VFR trips dropped by 10 per cent.
These figures confirm a continuation of the 2010 trend which saw the number of VFR trips (for holiday or other purposes) increase against pure holiday trips.
Over this period, the average length of stay declined from 3.3 nights in 2010 to the relatively normal level of 2.6 nights. Average spend, although rising slightly, still remains significantly lower than 2009 levels.
Figures for overseas visits to Scotland during this period are not yet available, however analysis of the UK figures for the first quarter of 2011 suggest that while it may be an improving picture, we are not yet back to pre-2008 levels.
Visits from the EU15 countries rose by nine per cent in the first three months of the year however the accession countries are still not showing robust signs of recovery. Trips from North America also grew by 13 per cent, however during the same quarter in 2010 a number of factors, including volcanic ash, adversely affected performance.
VisitScotland’s ‘Confidence Tracker Survey’, which monitors confidence levels in the Scottish accommodation sector, has found that the majority of businesses are ‘quite’ or ‘very’ confident about prospects for the next 12 months.
However the Scottish Chambers Business Survey noted a continued weakness in business confidence during the first quarter of 2011 as demand declined sharply, with trends in bar/restaurant trade and in conference/function facilities remaining weak.
Underlying consumer behaviour may yet impact on the propensity to spend, so while there are great opportunities for forward-thinking businesses to exploit, we do still continue on a somewhat uncertain path.
*The Great Britain Tourism Survey was previously known as the United Kingdom Tourism Survey, however from January 2011 onwards, data about trips taken by Northern Ireland residents is being collected separately by NISRA (Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency) and will no longer be reported as part of a UK-wide survey.