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Visit Scotland | Alba

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As international travel recovers from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and associated travel restrictions, the volume and value of international visits to Scotland in 2021 remains at significantly lower levels than seen up to 2019.

A graph of Scotland's international tourism performance

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A total of 536,000 visits were made to Scotland by international visitors, staying for 8.9 million nights and spending £521 million. This is an 85% reduction in volume and a 79% reduction in expenditure on 2019.

Year Visits Nights Spend (£ million)
2019 3,460,100 27,385,319 2,538
2021 536,000 8,905,000 521
Change -85% -67% -79%

The average international visitor to Scotland in 2021 spent a total of £734 over a 16.6 day trip with a daily expenditure of £58. The increase in spend per trip is driven by longer stays (16.6 days in 2021 versus 7.9 in 2019), with actual daily expenditure 37% down on 2019 levels.

Year Spend/trip Nights/trip Spend/night
2019 £734 7.9 £93
2021 £972 16.6 £58
Change 32% 110% -37%

Graph of international visits to Scotland in 2019 and 2021

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Despite lower overall levels of international visitors, performance has improved throughout 2021 as coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions eased and confidence to travel increased amongst consumers. Total visits in the last quarter of 2021 (Q4 – October to December) were higher than the traditional peak season of July – September (Q3) for the first time as reported by the IPS.

A graph of visits to Scotland by purpose of trip

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The purpose of trip motivating international visits to Scotland in 2021 is significantly different to that seen prior to the pandemic.  Travelling with the purpose of visiting friends and/or relatives (VFR) makes up half of all visits to Scotland in 2021, compared with 25% in 2019.

Holiday trips in 2021 totalled 6% of pre-pandemic volume and were outperformed by VFR travel in both total volume and against 2019 proportions, despite VFR only achieving 31% of 2019 level of visitation.

This increase in VFR visitors within the visitor mix has resulted in longer stays (16 days) but lower daily expenditure, as spend profile of VFR visitors  is likely to include less expenditure on food and drink, accommodation and activities than a traditional leisure visitor.

A trend of higher expenditure per trip was seen across all purposes of trip, with holiday expenditure per trip up 24% on 2019 levels, driven by longer stays and a desire to maximise time in destination in line with effort to travel.

Year North America Europe EU EU15 Other EU Other countries Total
2019 761,000 1,801,000 1,587,000 1,389,000 197,000 898,000 3,460,000
2021 141,000 345,000 321,000 257,000 64,000 49,000 536,000
Change -81% -81% -80% -82% -68% -95% -85%

In line with international consumer sentiment towards travel to the UK and Scotland, short haul visitors made up the majority (64%) of visits to Scotland in 2021. The North American market, a traditional market of strength for Scotland showed similar levels of decline on 2019 as European markets (down 81% on 2019 levels) with “other countries”, including the previously rapidly growing market of China down 95% on pre-pandemic visitor volumes.

For a complete overview of consumer sentiment, please check out our dedicated page.

A graph of visits to Scotland by global region

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About this data

All data is sourced from the International Passenger Survey (IPS) by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Please refer to the ONS website for more on IPS methodology.

Important notice on the continued impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) in relation to IPS data collection

The International Passenger Survey (IPS) was suspended on 16 March 2020 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Interviewing initially began at UK airports at the start of 2021, though the IPS remained suspended at some sea ports and train stations during the year. To produce statistics for the periods impacted the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have applied the following processes to the data since March 2020:


  • March 2020

With the data collected for most of March when the IPS was running the ONS had part of the data needed for the month. To produce estimates for the full month of March the ONS worked on the assumption that passenger characteristics in the second, unsampled, half of the month were represented by those sampled in the first half.

  • April –December 2020 (Q2, Q3, Q4 2020)

The travel and tourism figures for this period are based entirely on administrative sources and modelling as no data was collected during this period. In producing these results the ONS have made assumptions that some previous trends have continued, for example, the proportions of passengers travelling for business or holidays. The data was not made available by Mode, therefore we are unable to compare current AIR data to this period in 2020 and have opted to compare AIR data to 2019 instead.

  • 2021

Revised 2021 published today will contain all collected by the ONS throughout 2021, but with the following caveats that no data was collected for those travelling to the UK by Eurotunnel and data for those arriving from Dover was only collected from Q3. This report covers the regional level data for 2021. No comparisons are made in this report, but you can access regional data for previous years on VisitBritain's regional page. The sample for this period is very low so caution should be used when interpreting results.


Please refer to the ONS website for the official release. For more information on IPS methodology and UK outbound travel and for full year 2021, please refer to a dedicated ONS page.

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