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Visit Scotland | Alba
Article published 03/07/2023

It’s been a busy few months for our marketing development team. Meeting with stakeholders and operators across our key markets at events at home and aboard.

Opportunities like these help us develop Scotland's product and profile out in the market. It also helps the team gather news, information and trends that drive our planning for the future.

The following are a few of the latest topics.

Travel restrictions

The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic are mostly behind us. The cost of living crisis is impacting on travellers’ plans, but there are no restrictions impacting travel to Scotland, except for those between the UK and China.

This is because the Chinese government has not yet returned the status of “approved destination” to the UK.

This means that operators cannot package, sell, and obtain group visas for group tours to the UK. In other words, travel is currently restricted to independent travellers.


Trade contacts in China anticipate that approved destination status may be expanded to include the UK. It might also be possible for the status to be removed altogether over the course of this summer. This will potentially allow for group travel to return from China for 2024.

Before Brexit, European visitors were able to travel to the UK on their identity cards, but now need a valid passport. Some operators are citing this as a significant factor affecting travel to the UK and Scotland, in particular for school groups. That being said, levels of passport ownership in Europe are generally high.

Electronic travel authorisation

In future, travellers will be asked to complete an electronic travel authorisation before entering the UK. The process is planned to begin with select Middle Eastern countries from November 2023.

This will make travel to UK cheaper and easier for people from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Operators in the North American and European markets are, however, considering what this will mean for their clients. Currently they don't need any travel documentation other than a passport for leisure trips under six months. Launch dates for other markets have not yet been announced by the UK Government but are expected to be rolled out in 2024.

Read more about electronic travel authorisation on

What’s in demand?

Many major tour operators cite Scotland figures back at 2019 levels, and some as much as 100% up on 2019 figures. This demand is often reported as being higher than for competitor destinations including Ireland and other parts of the UK.

As a result, tour operators report contracting challenges with accommodation and high rates for 2023. Levels of post-pandemic travel demand and the willingness to splurge will likely decline. Tour operators warn, that when they do, destinations will need to ensure that quality and service keep pace with price. Or lose out to destinations that do.

In this climate, operators are open to new products and locations, so it is advised to be "trade-ready" with rates prepared for 2024 and 2025.

Browse our travel trade benefits

“Immersive experiences” continues to be a trend and is much in demand by Scotland travellers. Tour operators are showing growing interest in agritourism options. This is due to consumer demand for outdoor, family friendly and food and drink related experiences.

Demand for outdoor experiences varies across markets. There's a notable increase in enquiries from France for cycling holidays, from China for farm and wildlife tours.

Unique and luxury travel experiences continue to be in demand by visitors from North America and East Asia. Travellers from these markets are willing to spend considerably for once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Travel intermediaries are therefore looking to develop their programmes to include:

  • private, bespoke touring options
  • exclusive access
  • memorable experiences

These could be:

  • meet the locals and meet the maker experiences
  • behind the scenes exclusive views
  • first look opportunities and added value experiences.

Unique and authentic Scottish experiences will stand out. As will passionate owners and storytellers delivering a real sense of place.

Responsible travel: trends and attitudes

In the current high demand climate many operators are extending programmes into the shoulder and off-season. This is supporting demand from Scotland travellers unable to pay high season prices.

There is an increased demand for touring in EVs from European visitors, from Germany and the Netherlands in particular. This is coupled with a sharp increase in demand for rail travel on the part of visitors from markets Europe-wide. Operators are keen to offer tours by train for both groups and individuals in Scotland. This includes round trips and day trips from the cities.

North American intermediaries for individual travellers are seeing a switch to single-country itineraries. This is supporting slow tourism and allowing clients to fully immerse themselves in one destination.

North American tour operators are taking a lead in the drive to provide sustainable alternatives for their clients. This includes flagging demand for EVs, though lack of supply is currently hampering delivery.

There's great work underway to educate consumers on the concept of more "meaningful travel". This is especially the case for the North American market. By "meaningful travel", we mean attractions and experiences which both engage and give back to local communities.



Sustainability and responsible travel mean different things to different markets.

American consumers appear to place greater importance on convenience than sustainability. Given the choice between a disposable water bottle or refillable alternative in their room, they are likely to prefer the former. The sustainable option, in this example, being non-portable and therefore less convenient to take with them on the go.

German consumers, by contrast, are increasingly sensitive about the sustainability of their holiday. They're particularly keen not to see single use plastics in their room or on their coach.

Travellers from Europe in general do believe in making more sustainable choices. They are, however, concerned this will mean a more expensive holiday.

East Asian visitors are increasingly keen to mitigate their impact on the environment. But they are concerned that this might make for a more rustic experience.

Scotland’s connectivity

As an island nation, air travel continues to be of importance in delivering international tourism to Scotland. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global air connectivity was severe. There are still fewer city-pair routes operating from UK airports in summer 2023. But the positive news is that routes connecting Scotland with key inbound tourism markets have almost all returned.

In the case of European routes, particularly German, some frequency is still rebuilding. However Scotland is seeing record demand and seat capacity from US to Europe this summer. United and Delta increased their Newark, Boston and JFK services into Edinburgh. Delta also launched a new route between Atlanta and Edinburgh in May.

Looking to Canada, there's also increased capacity on Air Canada flights through the summer and extending into the winter. Westjet furthermore launched a new service between Calgary and Edinburgh.

There was also good news on connectivity from our Asia Pacific markets. Emirates has returned their A-380 aircraft between Glasgow and Dubai. Qatar Airways announced a double daily service from Doha this summer. Hainan Airways reintroduced a direct summer service between Edinburgh and Beijing that runs twice a week.

We continue to work with Scotland’s airports as part of a Team Scotland Aviation partnership. In doing so, we encourage targeted routes in support of Scotland’s inbound tourism, export, and inward investment ambitions.

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