Borders Railway tourist impact revealed
New data has shown a "significant improvement" in tourism levels after the opening of the Borders Railway.
The Scottish Tourism Economic Assessment Monitor (STEAM) statistics compared the first half of 2016 to the same period the year before.
It is the first time in 10 years that every category saw improvement.
The company which produces STEAM data said the most likely source for the rise in tourism activity in the Borders and Midlothian was the railway.
The railway was officially opened by the Queen in September 2015.
Among the details revealed by the figures in the Borders were:
- the number of visitor days in hotels and bed and breakfasts has risen by 27%
- a 20% rise in visitor spend on food and drink
- visitor spend on accommodation is up 17%
- a 16% rise in overall visitor spend
- the number of days visitors stayed in the Borders has increased by almost 11%
- an 8% increase in employment related to tourism
In neighbouring Midlothian some of the key findings were:
- a 12.3% rise in the number of visitor days in hotels and bed and breakfasts compared with the first six months of 2015
- visitor spend on food and drink in the same period rose by 6.5%
- overall visitor spend was up 6.8%
- the number of days visitors stayed in Midlothian increased by 7.2%
- a 4.1% improvement in employment related to tourism
Scottish Borders Council's Stuart Bell said: "Tourism is absolutely vital to the Scottish Borders' economy, and that is why this substantial rise in tourism activity in the first half of 2016 is so important.
"For the first time in a decade, the Borders have shown improved results in every STEAM category - the only area of mainland Scotland to do so for this period.
"The introduction of the railway has undoubtedly contributed to these figures."
Midlothian Council's Jim Bryant said the railway was introducing more people to the area's "wonderful scenery and world-class attractions".
"We were always confident that Borders Railway would bring new jobs, more tourists and significant economic opportunities to the area," he said.
"These figures are testament to the fact, these benefits are already under way."
Transport Minister Humza Yousaf added that the opening of the railway had been "cause for celebration" in the area.
"We were always confident that, in time, it would deliver major economic opportunities and attract new investment," he said.
"It is therefore very pleasing to see strong evidence that visits are up significantly, alongside spending, as a direct result of the railway."
Danny Cusick, director of tourism at Scottish Enterprise, said it had "always been confident" the line would attract visitors.
VisitScotland Chief Executive Malcolm Roughead said the figures were evidence that the "enormous tourism investment" was having a "real impact on the local economy".
Alasdair Smart, the ScotRail Alliance's tourism manager, said it was proud to play its part in creating a "positive Borders Railway experience".