Seven Scottish tourist attractions achieved more than one million visitors in 2016, according to new research conducted by Glasgow Caledonian University’s (GCU) Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism Business Development.
It was the free National Museum of Scotland which topped the charts of the top free and paid attractions during the year with 1,810,948 visitors, compared with 1,778,548 to last year’s winner Edinburgh Castle.
The National Museums received a 15.5% increase in visitors as it opened ten new galleries in 2016, showcasing collections in decorative art, design, fashion, science and technology.
Five other free attractions achieved over one million visitors. Glasgow is continuing to break records with the Riverside Museum and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum maintaining over a million visitors. Loch Lomond Shores is also now an established member of the one million-club with an ever-growing range of offers that extends well beyond retail.
However, it is year-on-year growth that is most impressive, following a record 2015. Free attractions received an average rise of 5.6% increase in visitors, while paid attractions received a 7.9% rise.
“There is no doubt that Scotland’s visitor attraction sector has benefitted from the lower value of Sterling against the Euro and the US Dollar. This has made the prospect of a visit to Scotland at its most affordable for some years,” explained Professor John Lennon, Director of the Moffat Centre. “In addition the positive demand from domestic visitors has also helped increase admissions as many families chose a ‘staycation’ because of concerns of the value of the Pound and perceived concerns about security in many destinations.”
In the paid attractions, Edinburgh Bus Tours raced ahead of Edinburgh Zoo for the first time as Edinburgh Zoo saw a 9.3% decline in numbers over 2015.
However, six of the top 20 paid attractions during 2016 were wildlife attractions. Five Sisters Zoo in West Lothian rose from the ashes after a fire in the reptile house in 2013, and is back on track with a whopping 46% increase in visitors in 2016 to 180,046. The zoo now features new ex-circus lions, De Brazza and Vervet monkeys, an armadillo, Great Grey Owls and a rescued badger.
Lesley Coupar, of Marketing and Visitor Services at Five Sisters Zoo, said: “We are extremely proud of what has been achieved over the past year, from being awarded the Best Business Tourism Award from West Lothian Chamber of Commerce to the opening of a new nature trail with many new native species. We created a beautiful Japanese memorial garden and opened the Zoo in the evenings during November and December for Zoo Illuminations.
The 2016 visitor attraction data is an early indicator of annual performance to show how the year performed in terms of visitor numbers. Professor Lennon said: “The indications are overwhelmingly positive as many operators in both the paid and free sectors have seen improved revenues and admissions.”
“It is a testament to the range and appeal of Scotland’s paid and unpaid offer that we continue to attract international and domestic tourists as well as local visitors to our visitor attractions.”
The top ten visitor attraction table forms the initial findings of the Moffat Centre Visitor Attraction Monitor, the unrivalled annual analysis of Scottish attraction performance since 1999. The full report of over 680 tourist sites will be completed in March.