(Strathspey & Badenoch Herald)
By Jessica Wilkins
TOURISM minister Jim Mather announced “bumper” visitor numbers for Scotland last year and praised the industry’s resilience whilst on a visit to Aviemore.
Mr Mather revealed provisional figures showing that more than 15 million people holidayed in Scotland in 2009 – a rise of 2.7 per cent compared to 2008 – and spent more than £4 billion, an increase of one per cent on the previous year.
During his visit, Mr Mather met representatives from VisitScotland and staff at Aviemore’s Active Outdoor Pursuits to discuss tourism issues in Badenoch and Strathspey.
The minister commended the sector’s robust response to challenges brought by the tough economic climate and recent disruption to air travel.
Mr Mather also highlighted VisitScotland’s recovery plan in support of tourism businesses that have lost bookings because of the Icelandic volcano.
That initiative will see tourism businesses offered free marketing and advertising opportunities on VisitScotland’s Perfect Day website to stimulate interest in Scotland and encourage visitors to take a staycation.
Mr Mather said: “Tourism is playing a vital role in Scotland’s recovery. Tourism businesses the length and breadth of Scotland have risen robustly to the challenges brought by the recession and they went out of their way to help visitors who were stranded as a result of recent volcanic eruptions in Iceland. This is testament to the resilience of the sector, which has been instrumental in Scotland’s recent return to economic growth.
“It is thanks to the industry’s hard work that Scotland welcomed an extra 385,000 visitors last year, underlining the success of Homecoming 2009 in appealing to people around the world with links to, or simply a love of, Scotland.
“According to VisitScotland, almost 12.5 million visitors from within the UK spent a staycation in Scotland during the year of Homecoming, and International Passenger Survey provisional figures tell us that more than 2.5 million tourists travelled to Scotland from overseas in 2009.”
Mr Mather added that he had found the tour of the Aviemore outdoor activities shop, which opened 10 months ago, “inspiring”.
He said: “These are highly motivated people and they offer visitors a fantastic experience. There is no shortage of things to do here.”
Alan Rankin, chief executive of the Cairngorms Business Partnership, said the Cairngorms National Park had enjoyed a bumper year in 2009, with the area benefitting from the upsurge in popularity of the staycation and the weakness of the pound.
Figures for this year were being buoyed by what he called the “snowcation” thanks to the great skiing at CairnGorm Mountain. Mr Rankin said: “Active Outdoor Pursuits is just one example of how investment and innovation – even during difficult times – brings about increased visitor numbers and spend.
“We have had an unbelievably good ski season and, due to our easy accessibility, people have travelled from around the UK rather than head to Europe to take advantage of conditions that have, at times, been better than most of Europe.
“The Cairngorms continues to prove that it is not only a first-class year-round tourist destination but an incredibly special part of the world that captures people’s hearts and imaginations and brings them back time and again.”
Sophia Gibson, owner of Active Outdoor Pursuits, which also has a base in Newtonmore, said her conversation with the minister had been “a great opportunity”. She said: “I think he was very open to listening to what issues have affected us and very supportive of business looking to grow and develop.”
But Mrs Gibson believes that the Scottish Government cannot claim all the glory in a year when Scottish tourism had been galvanised by a global recession and the cold snap. “Instead of panicking, we saw an opportunity,” she said.