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What is the Scottish Tourism Observatory project?

The Scottish Tourism Observatory aims to make data easy to find and to use, supporting tourism businesses and organisations, and the achievement of the national tourism strategy “Scotland Outlook 2030, Responsible Tourism for a Sustainable Future”.

Take a look at the new Scottish Tourism Observatory website. It has launched in a beta version – an early stage of development which will continue to be tested, improved, and built upon. 

On this page, you will find further information on:

What will visitors to the Scottish Tourism Observatory find?

  • The Observatory will present data on tourism in Scotland, focusing both on visitors and the industry, including topics such as seasonality, employment, and the visitor economy. It also provides data on the wider context, with sections on UK tourism and global tourism.

  • Interactive dashboards and visualisations provide ready-made analyses of data. Downloadable data tables are offered to allow users to create their own analyses. Information on the data and the analyses is provided to help people use the data.

  • The website also signposts related data sources and research, through links on each page. Where “big data” sets exist, links to their online sources are provided, e.g., Office for National Statistics.

  • The data currently shared on the website is existing and available but has been analysed and made accessible in new ways. This data is ‘open data’, from publicly available sources so it can be used and shared as necessary. 

  • The website also includes case studies and project updates to show how people are using tourism data, to help encourage and inspire others on how data could be used to support their own business.

The project

The Scottish Tourism Observatory project was born out of the development of the national strategy - Scotland Outlook 2030: Responsible Tourism for a Sustainable Future. It was recognised that a robust evidence base is crucial for planning and decision making.

The project received funding for the year 2021-22 from the Scottish Government as part of the support for the national action plan devised by the Scottish Tourism Emergency Response Group (STERG).

The Observatory has been developed by VisitScotland with the support of the Scottish Government, the Scottish Tourism Alliance, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, and South of Scotland Enterprise.

The team had several target outputs which were successfully delivered in the initial phase of the project. These included:

  • Research

    Research, consultation, and engagement with stakeholders to understand data needs.

  • Data discovery

    Identifying relevant data that is available and confirming critical gaps where that doesn’t meet data needs.

  • Creation

    Creation of the Scottish Tourism Observatory: including the design and build of the website and the supporting data pipelines and processes which enable the creation of the analyses and visualisations.

Development has been guided by the International Network of Sustainable Tourism Observatories (INSTO), a UN World Tourism Organisation initiative involving 31 tourism data observatories around the world. 

These countries all operate under the same goal: to provide relevant and useful data to aid sustainable tourism in their destination. As an Affiliate Member of the UNWTO, VisitScotland has proactively worked with INSTO to gain insight and identify global best practice on the role, impact and development of tourism observatories.

Linking data together

The Observatory has been designed to have a unique role amongst the websites which provide data and information for tourism in Scotland. Its focus in on presenting data through analyses and visualisations and downloadable datasets.  

Our Research and Insights section on this site continues to be the place where we’ll share our research, interpretation of data and statistics, conclusions and insights. 

Other websites, such as and the Office for National Statistics, provide “big data” sets of the national statistics and other data. 

The Observatory includes links out to all of these and other related information, so that users can more easily find what they need.

Understanding data needs

To ensure the development of the Scottish Tourism Observatory was firmly based on the needs of people involved in Scottish tourism, the project has involved research, feedback, and consultation throughout.

The project has received invaluable support from stakeholders across the industry through their responses and from the Industry Advisory Group which was set up to guide and advise.

The Industry Advisory Group was made up of around 25 people from across our stakeholder groups (such as businesses, organisations, Destination Marketing Organisations (DMOs) and local authorities)

The project team also reached out to data experts in other sectors and the Scottish Government for advice, to learn from the existing data initiatives and expertise. Current members of the UNWTO International Network of Sustainable Tourism Observatories were also consulted.

Next steps

This first phase of the Scottish Tourism Observatory is just the start of our journey to improve tourism data in Scotland.

The work that’s been done has laid the foundation for future development to meet more of the data needs of tourism stakeholders. 

The website and the data pipelines have been designed to be flexible and able to be easily scaled up as the data and other contents grow.

At present, options for continued funding of the Observatory are being explored.

The development of the Observatory so far has confirmed the challenges of the tourism data that is currently available. These challenges have been made worse by the lack of statistics and data collection since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, following the creation of the website and data pipelines, the focus of the project is on data development.  

This will have two aims -

  1. One workstream will continue to gather existing data sources to help meet data needs and to build a rich picture of tourism in Scotland – across all its sectors.
  2. The other workstream will focus on meeting data needs for which it will take more work and budget to find solutions.  These include the following:

  • Responsible tourism data

    We will start to build the Observatory data resources relating to Responsible Tourism, to support the national strategy, Destination Net Zero and other activities. This will also follow the framework of the UNWTO International Network of Sustainable Tourism Observatories, of which we aim to become a member.

  • Regional data

    We know robust data at a regional level is a crucial requirement for many, but one not fully being met by available sources. A project will be set up to examine possible solutions to improve regional data.

  • Forecasting to help planning and decisions

    Forward-looking data, such as forecasts, is also a key demand. Again, a project will be set up to investigate data and methodologies to enable this.

  • Mapping tourism assets

    Another objective is to build a clearer picture of tourism assets across the country using data. A pilot project is underway which will provide learnings on which to base further activity.

  • Improving data quality

    We will also develop an action plan for improving data quality overall, guided by the work of colleagues in the Scottish Government who are already active in this area.

Working together

Finding solutions to many of the data needs will be challenging. We hope to work collaboratively with stakeholders across the industry and around the country.

This could involve providing data and analyses for the website, sharing experiences of using data through case studies and project updates in the Community section or collaborating on the data projects which will be set up on find solutions to the major data challenges.

Do you have or do you know of data which we could share on the Observatory?  Could you share your use of data through a case study or project update?  Please get in touch!

Suggestions of data and information to include in the Observatory are most welcome, and details can be sent to the project team at:  

Further resources

Related links