The Easter weekend was a good one for Scottish tourism, with two new attractions opening to visitors for the first time:
the giant Kelpie sculptures between Falkirk and Grangemouth and the John Muir Way, the 134-mile walking route from Helensburgh in the west to Dunbar in the east.
Both projects will offer good days out for Scots but they are also examples of imaginative, inventive ways to attract tourists from all over the world while reflecting Scotland's cultural past. The Kelpies, which were inspired by the heavy horses of the industrial revolution, are already attracting hundreds of visitors, while the John Muir Way has the potential to draw tourists inspired by the story of the great naturalist, particularly from the United States, where Muir helped protect the Yosemite Valley.
There is also a serious economic benefit to be had from both projects, which promise to pull in visitors but also have the potential to attract millions of pounds to the economy. Andy Scott, the sculptor who created the Kelpies, said yesterday he was confident his giant piece of public art would bring people into the Falkirk area from home and abroad, and, opening the John Muir Way, First Minister Alex Salmond said he expected it to bring about £40 million in economic benefits to the communities along the route.
Like many projections of economic benefit, such figures are hard to check, but the potential is certainly there. Over the weekend, in the glorious sunshine, thousands of people from all parts of the world visited the Falkirk Wheel - an impressive feet of engineering that is just down the road from the Kelpies and has already demonstrated what imaginative tourism projects can achieve for a local economy.
And it is not alone in using creative ways to attract visitors and offer them a good experience. The new visitors centre at Bannockburn, for example, uses 3D technology and interactivity to help people learn about the battle. It opened last month and has already proved popular.
If Scotland is to build on these ventures and develop its tourist industry still further, more projects of the likes of the Kelpies and the Bannockburn centre are needed. The tourist industry already supports about 340,000 jobs and generates about £11 billion every year in spending, but there is unfulfilled potential still to be tapped.
Realising this potential will involve a mix of the past and the present. The old faithfuls of tourism - Edinburgh Castle, the Burrell Collection, Kelvingrove - do a superb job, but the key to the industry's future will be creating new reasons to come. More also needs to be done to tap into the new markets of Brazil, China and India and ensure that standards of service and catering are consistently good across the country.
The Kelpies and the John Muir Way will almost certainly do their bit in achieving these goals. They have already proved they can engage the public; the next step is to help them fulfil their potential to boost Scotland's tourism still further.
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