On June 23rd 2016, the UK voted to leave the European Union. In the wake of the surprise result, many in Scottish tourism expressed concern over the future of the industry. Foremost among their worries was the way in which the voters’ rejection of the EU would adversely impact European visitors’ perception of, and willingness to travel to, the UK – regardless of Scotland’s profoundly pro-EU sentiment.
Fast-forward 18 months and the initial anxiety over a downturn in performance has yet to be realised. Indeed, the immediate effect of the Brexit result was to inject further vitality into an already expanding industry in Scotland. The Scotch Whisky Association reported that 2016 saw 1.7 million visitors travel to distilleries across the five whisky-producing regions, an increase of 8% on the previous year. This is accompanied by Historic Environment Scotland’s record-breaking figures for 2017, and the unprecedented success of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Rather than merely surviving Brexit, Scottish tourism has thrived. Much of this can be attributed to the weakening of the pound relative to the euro after the referendum. In practical terms, this led to an increased number of tourists choosing Scotland as a destination, as well as a significant increase in the spending figures of those same tourists during their visit. Indeed, of those 1.7 million visitors to the country’s whisky distilleries, spending came in at an average of £31 – itself rising 13% from the figures collected in 2015.
More tourists, higher spending: these have been the short-term impacts of the Brexit vote thus far on the Scottish tourism sector. Naturally, the future remains uncertain, and the Scottish Tourism Alliance has been critical in recent days of the UK government’s proposed timeline. However, with almost two thirds of Scottish tourism businesses confident about their trading prospects from now until 2020, the future looks bright – and the resilience of the industry should once again be applauded.
Oliver Lemarchand is Communications Manager at Experience Scotland, an Edinburgh-based Destination Management Company.