IT is Scotland’s secret weapon for luring world tourists: our patter.

Sure, if asked why they come north of the border, foreigners will cite our stunning landscapes (if they catch a glimpse through the perma-drizzle), our local firewater and, of course, our men in skirts.

But a real clincher: the chance to blether like a Scot. Or at least with one.

A major new survey of the big growth market for Scottish tourism, China, found nearly four out of five named “chatting with locals” as a reason to visit the country.

The poll, carried out in mega-cities Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai this summer echoed findings from previous attempts to understand why foreigners visit. Three years ago national tourism agency VisitScotland quizzed 6000 tourists about Scots.

HeraldScotland:

The most common words used: friendly, helpful, welcoming, nice and warm. Some 82% said locals added to their holiday experience.

VisitScotland is understood to be eager to get such messages over in China, where Scotland remains very much a secondary destination and where knowledge of our national characteristics is slim.

After all, Chinese tourists may still seem pretty thin on the ground. The biggest country in the world ranks 16th in the league table of sources for Scottish tourism, way behind traditional markets like America, Germany, France and England.

But as the Communist giant cements its place as the world’s biggest real-terms economy, its elites and middle-classes are looking for new travel experiences.

So finding out what makes Chinese chose Scotland is vital.

Hazel Sellar, VisitScotland’s market manager for China, said: “This is a first of its kind piece of research in China by VisitScotland, which will enable us to tailor our marketing activity even further and to ensure Scotland is on Chinese travellers’ must-see list.

“People in China increasingly enjoy holidays to long-haul destinations. Their growing appetite for unique and exciting experiences means that Scotland is perfectly positioned to offer them exactly what they’re looking for time and time again.

“Our goal is to continue to raise awareness of Scotland as a destination in China, showcasing the great products we know appeal to Chinese visitors. We also strive to support the industry in expanding into this market and improving the visitor experience for Chinese travellers.

“Tourism is more than a holiday experience - it is the heartbeat of the Scottish economy and touches every community, generating income, jobs and social change.”

HeraldScotland:

Trends for Chinese tourism are mixed - even as the weak pound drives visits from the European Union and America.

There were 57,000 Chinese visitors recorded in Scotland in 2018, down 8% on the year before. The number nights spent was down even more, by 22%. However, Chinese tourists left more money in Scotland than every before, more than £47m.

The survey was timed to coincide with China’s big holiday, its national golden week, marking the founding of the Peoples Republic of China being established. There has been a 300% rise in visitor numbers to Scotland within the last ten years according to International Passenger Survey figures.

The data revealed that 87 per cent of Chinese visitors to Scotland say they would like to return, thanks to our “beautiful landscapes”.

As well as our scenery, holidaymakers also listed Scotland’s culture, relaxing atmosphere and its family-friendliness as motivations for a return trip.

The survey found that Chinese holidaymakers, who haven’t visited Scotland before, rely on very traditional images when thinking of Scotland: bagpipes, kilts, whisky, and castles.

Around 35 per cent of these holidaymakers consider Scotland to be full of proud history and heritage and 30 per cent believe it is a non-touristy destination where they can truly enjoy themselves.

Those surveyed also deemed Scotland a great place for active or outdoor pursuits. Chinese visitors to Scotland seem to stick to traditional tourist routes, with visits to Edinburgh Castle, Loch Ness, the Highlands and Glasgow mentioned most often.

Scots, meanwhile, have turned on to China as a tourist destination. There was a 53% rise in outbound travel to China last year, with 29,000 people making the trip. But the net flow of people and money remains east-to-west.