Scottish visitor numbers rise to 15 million

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Scotland attracted more tourists from the UK and abroad last year

The number of tourists visiting Scotland climbed by 5% to more than 15 million last year, according to new figures.

Tourism expenditure also rose north of the border to £4.7bn as Scotland hosted the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup.

Overseas tourist numbers were up 11%, while there was a 3% rise in domestic visits to Scotland. However, the amount spent by domestic tourists fell by 1%.

VisitScotland said last year saw the highest spend by visitors in a decade.

The overseas figures were compiled by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), while domestic tourism statistics were derived from the Great Britain Tourism Survey.

For the UK, there was a 5.2% increase in visits by overseas residents, while spending reached a record £21.8bn.

But for Great Britain as a whole, domestic visits fell by 7%, with expenditure dropping by 2%.

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Edinburgh was one of the UK's top destinations for tourists

According to the figures, the majority of overseas visitors to Scotland came from Europe.

However, the number of North American tourists rose by 28% to more than 500,000, with expenditure increasing by 48%.

Edinburgh came second only to London in the number of visits and spending across UK destinations, while Glasgow also featured among the top tourist draws.

'Hugely encouraging'

Scottish Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing described the figures as "hugely encouraging".

He said: "The rises in visitors and expenditure show that Scotland is a destination that offers quality experiences and visitors are prepared to spend their money in our hotels, tourism attractions and restaurants.

"2014 has taken Scotland's profile to great heights with the eyes of the world on Scotland as we hosted the hugely successful Commonwealth Games, Ryder Cup and the MTV Europe Music Awards and as well as being the Year of Homecoming.

"With 2015 being the Year of Food and Drink, we are determined to build on this success for the future.

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VisitScotland said "breath-taking landscapes" helped draw tourists to Scotland

VisitScotland chairman Mike Cantlay said: "They say strength comes in numbers and with results like these, there is no denying Scotland's tourism might.

"It was our mission to welcome the world in 2014 and we did just that with an astounding number of people travelling to our shores to experience the unprecedented number of world-class events, the exceptional welcome from the Scottish people and of course our breath-taking landscapes which never cease to amaze."

'Mountain to climb'

The Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland welcomed the figures but warned there was "a mountain to climb" to reach the government target of increasing visitor spending to £5.5bn by 2020.

Scottish policy convenor Andy Willox said: "2014 should have been a bumper year for Scottish tourism. While today's figures are good, the question is whether they're good enough given the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup raised the country's profile to new heights.

"The Scottish government and the wider industry has a mountain to climb to reach its own tourism spend target.

"With just five years to go to permanently increase spending by £800m, we need to have a public debate about whether we're taking the right approach.

"Our recent report highlighted that many Scottish small tourism firms struggle to grow - in part due to poor digital and transport infrastructure and problems in accessing affordable finance.

"Further, many small firms aren't connected to national and local tourism initiatives. Tackling these issues has to be a priority."

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