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From Russia with cash, the tourist economy is booming

AN influx of Russian tourists has helped Scotland become a booming hotspot for visitor spending, with tills ringing up far faster growth than in London.

ATTRACTION: Visitors crowd the Royal Mile each year during the Edinburgh Fringe, but one-off events are also helping tourism. Picture: Steve Cox
ATTRACTION: Visitors crowd the Royal Mile each year during the Edinburgh Fringe, but one-off events are also helping tourism. Picture: Steve Cox

High-spending visitors from Russia helped to boost the coffers while Americans spent 53 per cent more in July, August and September 2013 than in the previous year.

Tourist chiefs are expecting even better things this year as visitor numbers have soared with the help of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. More uplift is expected with the forthcoming Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.

New research by VisitBritain shows there was a record £504 million spent on visits to Scotland during the third quarter of 2013, a rise of 33 per cent on 2012. Apart from the East Midlands, it marked the fastest rate of spend growth across all British regions. London saw a meagre four per cent increase whilst Wales saw spend uplift of 15 per cent.

Scotland welcomed 615,000 overseas holiday visits in the quarter - an increase of 16.5 per cent compared to the 528,000 during the same period in 2012. That is the highest number of summer holiday visits since the pre-economic crisis record of 654,000 in 2007.

BRIC nations - Brazil, Russia, India and China - have become a bright spot on the Scots tourism horizon, and are expected to drive growth over the next five years.

The largest volume of visits and the highest spenders came from Russia - 11,000 of them, spending £12 million. In comparison, there were 8,000 visits from China with spend of £2 million, 5,000 visits from India (worth £2 million) and 4,000 visits from Brazil (£2 million).

The largest volume of overseas visits to Scotland - 111,000 - were from the USA, setting a new third-quarter American spend record of £113 million compared to £74 spent during the same period in 2012 .

Edinburgh and Glasgow were unsurprisingly the most visited cities in Scotland for holiday visits, but the VisitBritain data suggests Aberdeen and the Highlands, including Inverness, are also popular with overseas holiday visitors. For example, more Brazilians went to Inverness than Glasgow, Liverpool, Bath or York.

A VisitScotland spokeswoman said: "The signs are positive that this year is shaping up to be another strong season for Scottish tourism.

"Both Glasgow and Edinburgh have enjoyed particularly busy summers as a result of the Games and Edinburgh Festivals, while recent figures have shown that many of the country's visitor attractions are welcoming a record number of visitors.

"2014 is inspiring global confidence in Scotland. We believe 2014 is the springboard for economic success in 2015 and beyond."

Garry Clark, of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, added: "Last year, we were picking up strong evidence from our members of increasing tourism demand and spend and the good news is that optimism levels have continued into this year.

"With the effects of the recession being overcome and Scotland being thrust into the global limelight with events such as the Scottish Open and the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield being covered live on US television, Scotland's attractions were being highlighted to a global audience.

"The good news is that with the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup, Scotland's profile has increased again this year and we are hoping for further growth in tourism next year."

One of Scotland's biggest attractions, the Falkirk Wheel, celebrated visitor numbers topping 5.5 million in its most successful summer in eight years.

Visits to the world's only rotating boat-lift were up 30 per cent this summer compared to the same period last year. This July has been the busiest since it opened in 2002 with over 90,000 visitors.

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