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Article published 22/05/2024

VisitScotland Connect, our flagship travel trade event, took place in Aberdeen from 17-18 April 2024.

257 buyers from 23 countries took part in this year’s event. They were keen to share their thoughts on Scotland as well as the latest news about their own respective markets.

This article offers a summary of some of this recent feedback from buyers. 

Scotland records highest number of international visitors

Before we look at our recent feedback from buyers, we should begin by acknowledging the 2023 International Passenger Survey (IPS) by the Office of National Statistics. This showed 3.9 million overseas tourists came to Scotland last year.

This is an increase of 15% on 2019 levels with spend also up 41%. The previous record for international visits was in 2018 when Scotland welcomed 3.7 million overseas tourists.

These figures mark a turning point for tourism in Scotland. They show not only recovery but crucially growth in international visitors with the number of visits and spend now above 2019 levels. Scotland is the only UK region to have reached this milestone.

This shows the strength of Scotland's offering and the clear desire for people across the world to experience this.

Read the full International Passenger Survey.

Demand continues to be high for Scotland

As evidenced in this latest release of IPS statistics, demand for Scotland was very high in 2023 and looks set to continue through 2024. Many operators across the markets are forecasting this to carry on through 2025 and 2026.

The desire for international travel continues across all markets. This is despite high inflation and the economic downturn.

Currently, most visitors have been willing to pay higher prices. We see this across the tourism industry in Scotland. This is particularly true for the North American market where exchange rates remain favourable.

Some European tour operators expressed concern that Scotland’s high prices (and value for money) may go on to dampen demand from 2025 onwards. This may be exacerbated when combined with the upcoming rollout of the electronic travel authorisation (ETA).

Discover how the UK's ETA scheme might impact some of your visitors.

Booking behaviour returns to pre-pandemic patterns

Operators’ clients have generally returned to pre-pandemic booking habits. The time between booking and going on holiday is getting longer for each season.

There are still some last-minute bookings. Some markets are more prone to this (notably Spain and China). But international travellers have gone back to planning and booking around three to six months in advance. Some long haul markets such as Canada and Australia start planning even further in advance.

Some markets tend to book directly with suppliers, particularly the domestic UK market.

Internationally, however, clients looking for additional reassurance, advice, and convenience. Increasingly, they make more use of travel agents – a continuing post-pandemic trend. This is seen by operators working in the United States, Germany, and Spain, among others.

Many within the international travel trade confirmed that they are already contracting for both 2025 and 2026 tours. And they are looking for Scottish supplier partners to be ready with these rates.

Buyers highlighted that dynamic rates make planning and booking very challenging for them. They prefer working with suppliers who could offer fixed rates as best practice.


A mother and two children are waiting for their train at the station

Increasing demand for sustainable transport options

The trend towards their clients seeking more sustainable transport methods for all or part of their holiday to Scotland continues to grow. This is especially evident amongst European buyers.

Those selling in the German and Dutch markets report demand for:

  • rail travel 
  • electric car itineraries 
  • reassurance on charging infrastructure

The rail trend is also extending in long haul markets, including the United States, Canada, and Australia. In these markets this trend is no longer just among individual, fully independent travellers.

Group operators are also looking to build rail travel into existing itineraries. With this trend comes a growing demand for porterage services.


A Scotrail sprinter crosses a bridge over Loch Awe near Dalmally

Food and drink as immersive experiences

Buyers at VisitScotland Connect were interested in the increasing range of food and drink experiences available in Scotland. These are a popular inclusion for tour operators that are working to create more responsible tourism itineraries.

Clients and operators alike are increasingly keen to support local producers and get hands-on with their offerings. Agritourism experiences and interactive cooking sessions prove to be popular.

Storytelling and meeting the owners / locals as part of these experiences was also particularly in demand. There is an appetite for suppliers to develop exclusive and higher yield variations on these experiences.

Garden, nature, and wildlife experiences were also of interest to buyers looking to develop their responsible tourism itineraries in Scotland. Interest for experiences that celebrate preservation or sustainable practices was growing.

Find out how to develop a quality food tourism experience with our guidance and case studies.


A plate of seafood

Increased interest in slow tourism

Demand for Scotland continues to be high. So, tour operators are looking for new rural, city, and island destinations that were not previously in their programmes.

There is also more interest in slow tourism and “hub and spoke” itineraries among international tour operators. These itineraries are where visitors set up base at their accommodation in one location for several days and take day trips out to the surrounding area.

When a visitor stays at one location for several nights, day excursion itineraries offer an opportunity to explore the surrounding area at leisure and in greater depth.


Demand for luxury experiences in Scotland grows

Luxury clients are looking for unique and immersive experiences that are authentic to Scotland. The North American and the Chinese markets stand out in this space, driving demand.

Buyers are looking for suppliers of:

  • luxury accommodation 
  • premium packages
  • VIP, private, or bespoke tours 

There are opportunities for a wider range of local businesses to develop specific, higher yield experiences for exclusive groups and individuals.

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