By Scott Wright

A MAJOR campaign has been launched to restore Scotland’s place on the international tourism stage and help the industry recover from the ravages of the pandemic.

Potential tourists in the key markets of the US, Germany and France will be the initial target of the global marketing drive, which is unveiled by VisitScotland today.

The £6.5 million Scotland is Calling campaign seeks to encourage international visitors to consider holidaying here again after travel restrictions made it difficult to visit for much of the last 18 months.

It is part of efforts to rebuild international demand following the crisis, and is supported by the £25m tourism recovery fund launched by the Scottish Government in March.

The campaign arrives on the heels of a significant easing of the testing regime for people arriving in or returning to Scotland from overseas, which will mean they will no longer have to take pre-departure test when coming from non-red-list countries. Another key change will see lateral flow tests replace PCR for travellers testing two days after their arrival.

Vicki Miller, director of marketing and digital at the publicly funded VisitScotland, said: “The domestic market has always been very important to us, and it has supported some very early recovery for parts of the sector. But equally you can see through the cities, through the cultural attractions, in-bound operators and tour operators and others who are very focused on the international market, [that] they haven’t seen recovery to the same extent. Strategically, this is really important in terms of that sustainable recovery.”

The collapse of foreign visitor numbers has been keenly felt by a wide range of Scottish tourism businesses – from hotels and coach companies to cultural and adventure attractions – as they have struggled to meet the challenges posed the pandemic.

While the ‘staycation’ market has provided a welcome boost in recent months, the absence of foreign visitors has been financially damaging. Research shows visitors to Scotland from the US spend four times as much as domestic tourists; visitors from Europe spend twice as much.

In 2019, prior to the pandemic, Scotland welcomed 3.5 million international visitors who generated 43 per cent of total tourism spend that year. The higher spend by foreign tourists is attributed by VisitScotland to the fact they typically come for longer breaks, and tend to travel across the country. Scotland is largely a short-break market for UK-based tourists.

Ms Miller said the “knock-on impact” from the lack of foreign visitors has been felt in the supply chain of hotels and attractions, in sectors such as food and drink and retail.

Scotland is Calling will deploy a range of consumer content on digital channels, social media and publishing partnerships, to put the country “front of mind” among tourists in target markets and help ensure the country is considered if they are planning to holiday overseas.

VisitScotland said it will also work with travel media to help the industry develop “sustainable and responsible travel itineraries”.

While Ms Miller noted that there are now some foreign tourists in Scotland, many will be here on rescheduled holidays booked prior to the pandemic. She said the new campaign is designed to “kick-start” the Scottish market overseas, stating: “Because travel is now permitted, people are travelling again, but we need to make sure that Scotland is front of mind as a destination as people are starting to plan future holidays.

"We know there is pent-up demand because people have not been able to do it. But equally we know that if you are travelling that bit further on holiday, you are going to take time to plan it. It is not going to be an overnight decision to all of a sudden come from America to Scotland, or indeed from some of our key European markets.”

After its initial roll-out to the US, France and Germany, the campaign will be widened out to the UK market, elsewhere in Europe, and “long-haul” markets such as India and China.

Ms Miller said a key aim is to position Scotland as a “responsible and sustainable tourist destination”.

“We are all aware of the climate emergency and Scotland has a role to play in that,” she said. “We also know that, coming out of the pandemic, people are looking for slightly different things. They want to slow down, they want to immerse themselves in experiences, they want to connect with local people... and have that richer experience. We think that is Scotland’s calling card... that’s what Scotland offers you in bucketloads.”

A new £1.5m Inbound Operator and Marketing Fund has also been launched as part of the campaign to support Scottish-based tour operators and destination management companies working internationally.

Tourism Minister Ivan McKee said: “Scotland is one of the world’s leading tourism destinations and we want it to remain one of the top destinations for visitors from across the world.

“This funding follows the recommendations from the Tourism Recovery Taskforce and will ensure our tourism businesses that would normally rely on international visitors are ready to welcome guests back to Scotland. We have so much to offer, from crystal-clear blue waters and white sands to rolling hills and bustling cities. There is something for everyone and we want visitors to start thinking about and planning their trips to Scotland when the time is right.”