International Passenger Survey figures for July to September 2010 confirm that Scotland saw a small decline of one per cent in overseas visitors over the same period in 2009, whilst the UK as a whole saw an increase of one per cent.
Performance varied between markets however, and whilst the number of North American visitors declined, visits from the EU15 countries - buoyed by a favourable exchange rate - rose by 20 per cent, with particularly strong growth from the traditional touring markets including Germany, Denmark and Sweden. The EU accession countries also continued to perform well.
Positively, overall spend by overseas visitors to Scotland in this period rose by 12 per cent, compared to a two per cent decline for the UK as a whole.
Looking at the period of January to September 2010, Scotland saw an overall seven per cent decline in overseas visitors against the same period in 2009, compared with a two per cent increase for the whole of the UK.
This included a significant drop in North American visitors of 18 per cent, and a decline in European visitors of six per cent. Again, however, expenditure by overseas visitors to Scotland increased by 10 per cent compared to a two per cent decline for the UK as a whole.
United Kingdom Tourism Survey figures for the period of January to October 2010 show that there was a three per cent decline in trips by UK visitors to Scotland compared to the same period in 2009. Whilst holiday and business trips were down, however, the number of people visiting friends and relatives (VFRs) for holiday purposes rose by 17 per cent.
Holiday trips by Scottish residents dropped by seven per cent, and there was also a decline in the number of visitors from the rest of the UK, but the ‘young families’, self-catering, B&B and ‘older independents’ sectors outperformed other markets.
Looking at the longer term picture, there are a number of positives. 2010 saw business tourism return to levels achieved in 2007, and it was also the best year for Holiday VFR since 2006. On the down side, non-holiday VFR has declined year on year.
Changes to length of stay are also becoming apparent, with stays of eight or more nights declining in 2010 after a period of steady growth, and stays of four to seven nights dropping marginally year on year since 2007.
Shorter stays of one to three nights, whilst falling slightly in 2010, remain comparable with 2006 levels, suggesting that the trend is towards taking fewer main holidays in the UK but more short breaks.
With a recent survey showing that holiday spending by UK residents will fall this year compared to last, it seems clear that – in a time of post-recession and fragile economic recovery - people are reassessing their incomes in 2011 and making holiday decisions based on affordability as opposed to desirability.