Scotland – we’re a nation of songwriters and storytellers, writers and readers, artists and creators, musicians and poets, innovators and boundary breakers. Our breadth and range of festivals reflect everything that we are and everything we have; our character, personality, knowledge and spirit. They are a blend of every element that makes our country so attractive to visit and so richly, culturally rewarding to live in.

As we move away from tourism’s busiest season, it’s a time to pause briefly and not only reflect on the successes of our summer festivals but remind ourselves of the significant contribution our year-round festivals make to our local economies, to our wealth as a nation and our cultural wellbeing.

Scotland is home to over 200 thriving festivals each year, each with their own distinct personality, theme, appeal and contribution. Music, arts, whisky, sailing, books, comedy, fashion, food and film – we have a festival for everyone, all of which contribute billions of pounds to our economic pot, deliver enormous cultural benefits and shape our pride and identity.

Edinburgh’s Festivals continue to be one of Scotland’s leading cultural brands, attracting attendances of more than 4.7 million, putting them on a par with the FIFA World Cup, both being second only to the Olympic Games.

The most recent impact study (2015) showed that they supported 5,660 new full-time equivalent jobs in Edinburgh and a total of 6,021 across Scotland. This year’s Festival Fringe audience broke the three million barrier for the first time.

In the West, due to its reputation as a creative, cultural, and musical hub – along with it being Scotland’s only UNESCO City of Music, live music is a key pillar of Glasgow’s Tourism and Visitor Plan to 2023 with festivals like TRNSMT and Glasgow Summer Sessions being major drivers of the city’s tourism economy. Last year TRNSMT generated a new value of almost £12M and supported the equivalent of 179 full time jobs in Glasgow. Glasgow’s music venues attracted 475,000 gig-goers last year. Celtic Connections remains the largest winter music festival of its kind, attracting a record 130,000 visitors to over 300 events this year.

Beyond our cities and gateways to Scotland, the festival scene continues to thrive.

Now in its 24th year, the Hebridean Celtic Festival, based in Lewis attracted 18,000 people over a four-day period in July in 2018, generating £2.1M and safeguarding 38 jobs. A festival rooted in its community, HebCelt has developed with strong local support, creating a strong economic, cultural, social and environmental impact.

Beyond the beat of the drum, Scotland’s National Book Town hosts Wigtown Book Festival, attracting around 29,000 visitors over a four-day period (including our First Minister), generating £3.6M for the local economy. This year’s Spirit of Speyside whisky festival, now in its 20th year broke all previous records with tickets for 173 events selling out within 24 hours of release.

It’s not just about the numbers though…The ‘informal sociability’ that festivals creates has a lasting impact on our happiness and wellbeing. Too often we focus on economic contribution, we don’t talk enough about the happiness factor; bonding with friends or family, the unifying experience that comes from attending a festival, communities coming together, the opportunity to be entertained, uplifted and enriched.

There are many factors that make a festival a success, one of the most important of those being of course, people. The people who attend, organise, promote and deliver and the people in the communities where these events are held.

During this year’s August festivals in Edinburgh, some press focussed on the ‘Edinburgh overcrowded’ headlines which sends a clear message to the world – ‘Don’t come here, it’s too busy, our streets are clogged and the natives are getting a bit restless…’

As our tourism industry, Scottish Government and public agencies move into the final stages of developing Scotland’s national tourism strategy for the next ten years, these are the headlines that still echo in my head, ones which I know are ever present across a great many minds at the moment.

Of course we want to continue to see success in numbers; the number of people visiting and experiencing our destinations, festivals, landscapes, events and attractions while delivering positive impacts to local communities and the wider economy. We want all aspects of tourism to offer benefit to every person in Scotland, through the sector’s contribution to our nation’s wealth and of course for every person who visits us to leave having had an enriching experience with memories to last a lifetime.

A seismic shift in mindset is taking place now across Scotland’s tourism industry as a result of our current economic conditions, continued forecast of unknowns and persistent challenges which come in many forms. We are more conscious than ever of the need to grow a sustainable tourism product for the future, working with communities to minimise the potential negative impacts of ‘success in numbers’ and ensure that every person living in Scotland reaps the benefits of what our industry has the potential to deliver back into the nation’s purse.

Scotland’s festivals represent just one strand of what we as an industry and a nation can deliver that few global destinations could compete with, such is the breadth of the appeal of our festivals offering.

In many senses our festivals scene is what keeps us evolving; as people, a nation and it quite possibly puts us at the centre of the world’s stage as a tourist destination. Our festivals are one of our most important exports. The contribution that they make goes way beyond numbers and putting money back ‘into the pot’; they set Scotland apart from our competitors, enrich the lives of those who live here and will I hope, continue to inspire, engage and connect our industry, local communities and visitors for a great many years to come.

Marc Crothall is chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance.