SCOTLAND'S tourism body is to close two thirds of its information centres despite record numbers of visitors flocking to the country.

The sites set for closure include tourist information offices at Edinburgh and Glasgow Airports, as well as traditional holiday centres such as Callander, Drumnadrochit and the Borders.

VisitScotland announced the move to close 39 of its 65 centres at the same time as ‘spectactular’ new figures revealed a massive boost to overseas tourism driven largely by American tourists inspired by hit television drama, Outlander.

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The Office of National Statistics figures showed the number of international visitors jumped by 11 per cent in the year up to June 2017, with a 19 per cent rise in spending to more than £2bn.

The biggest increase was among visitors from North America – where the subscription-only drama is particularly popular – with 38 per cent more Americans opting to visit Scotland over the year.

In all, more than 707,000 American tourists visited Scotland in the past year, spending £738m - a 48 per cent jump compared to £495 million the previous year.

VisitScotland Chief Executive Malcolm Roughead said the national tourism boom could be partly traced to the impact of the subscription-only programme, which follows time-travelling wife Clare Randall flip between post-war Britain and 1743 Scotland.

The growth in visitors from North America is said to have also been fuelled by the added capacity from Delta and Norwegian Air which began additional flights between May and June.

He said: “Such major growth from our international markets can be attributed to increased, targeted marketing activity in key North American and European countries, favourable exchange rates, increased capacity on flights and the Outlander effect which has taken the country by storm since the release of the popular TV series. “It is magnificent to see such spectacular growth from international markets in what has been a busy year for tourism in Scotland.”

He added that the tourism boost was being felt “across the board” from accommodation providers to CalMac Ferries, Edinburgh and Glasgow airports. “We have heard from many who have had a record-breaking year.”

Scottish tourism Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “The continued rise in overseas tourists is encouraging. It is great news for our economy. Scotland offers a memorable visitor experience for people that choose our country as their holiday destination.”

According to the new ONS figures, the number of domestic day trips and holiday market is also rising, with a jump of 9.3 per cent and 4.6 per cent respectively in the first six months of the year.

The international statistics come just a week after Historic Environment Scotland (HES) revealed it had experienced its busiest season on record, with a 20 per cent average increase in footfall at its 70 sites across Scotland between April and September this year.

HES said sites which feature in the hit US television, which is based on the books by Diana Gabaldon, continued to see particularly large increases in visitor numbers particualarly Doune Castle in Perthshire.

However despite the tourism boom, VisitScotland yesterday confirmed it is to close visitor centres in some of Scotland’s key tourist destinations, replacing them with regional ‘hubs’.

The tourism body said the move - part of a two year £10m strategy to shake up the way it delivers information to visitors - was in response to the popularity of digital services among visitors and a 58 per cent slump in footfall at its tourist information centres.

Staff affected by the centre closures are to be offered redundancy packages or the chance of redeployment.

Towns which will lose their year round tourist centre include Falkirk – which has seen its visitor numbers soar as a result of the Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel – Callander, Braemar and Tyndrum.

Instead, VisitScotland is to enter ‘partnership arrangements’ with more than 1500 visitor attractions, car hire firms, businesses, tourism groups and local tourism experts to plug the gap for visitors.

They will include Historic Environment Scotland attractions, Arnold Clark sites and partnerships with organisations like NC500, Scottish Canals and the Forestry Commission Scotland.

The tourism body is also planning to create 26 key VisitScotland iCentres in high impact locations and a range of ‘Coo Vans’, mobile tourist information units that will travel the country.

Lord John Thurso, Chairman of VisitScotland said: “The way visitors access information has changed significantly over the past decade. It’s time to switch our focus and investment into new and diverse initiatives to ensure we are reaching as many people as possible with the information they want, in the way they want it, when they want it.”

Marc Crothall, Chief Executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance said: “Digital information and the widespread use of mobile devices has transformed the way visitors source information and make bookings, both pre and on arrival. The world is changing and the tourism industry in Scotland has to respond to ensure we continue to provide the high quality and authentic experiences that our visitors expect at all points of their journeys.”