According to recent figures, the number of people visiting Scotland’s tourist hotspots has dropped dramatically over the past two years amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
Statistics show visitors made the most of outdoor attractions, such as Edinburgh Zoo, with the capital’s castle among the places where visitor numbers fell.
In 2021, the number of people visiting the ancient castle of Castlehill in Edinburgh fell by more than 80% compared to 2019.
Last year, 423,866 tourists visited the country, down more than 1.5 million from pre-pandemic levels.
Edinburgh Zoo was the country’s most visited paid attraction last year with more than 600,000 people attending over a 12 month period.
It has seen visitor numbers increase by 15% on pre-pandemic levels and joins Highland Wildlife Park, near Aviemore, as the only places to see an increase in visitor numbers in 2021 among the top ten most visited attractions from the country.
The figures were released by the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA) on Thursday.
The National Museum of Scotland was the country’s top free attraction in 2021 with over 660,000 visitors in 2021.
This is a drop of just over 70% from figures for 2019, when it attracted nearly 1.3 million tourists.
Paid attractions welcomed just over nine million visitors in 2021, down from over 20 million in 2019, a 55% decline, while free sites had just over 20.2 million visitors a year last against 35.5 million in 2019, a drop of just over 43%.
Gordon Morrison, chief executive of ASVA, said that while visitor numbers in 2021 were up on the previous year, “the latest figures highlight the particularly difficult period that the tourist attractions sector and wider tourism industry have experienced over the past 12 months”. .
Across Scotland’s free and paid attractions, visitor numbers were down more than 47% from pre-pandemic levels last year, according to data compiled by ASVA in conjunction with the Moffat Center for Travel and Tourism Development at Glasgow Caledonian University.
Mr Morrison said the figures showed ‘clear evidence that our sector has been extremely hard hit for a significantly prolonged period due to the consequences of the pandemic’.
He said: “While we have seen some very welcome positive signs that business at a number of attractions is beginning to rebound, many of our operators are still in survival mode, and the vast majority, unfortunately, still faces a very long road to recovery.”
Professor John Lennon, director of the Moffat Centre, has warned Scottish tourist attractions will not see overseas visitor numbers return to pre-pandemic levels until 2025.
“How business will resume will very much depend on Scottish and UK custom,” he said.
“Visiting Scotland’s attractions not only demonstrates their support, but also helps safeguard the future of a sector which is a vital contributor to the country’s economy and also plays a crucial guardian role in the protection of heritage, culture and identity of Scotland.”