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Visit Scotland | Alba

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In 2021, international travel still recovered from the pandemic and associated travel restrictions. The volume and value of international visits to Scotland in 2021 remained at significantly lower levels than seen up to 2019.


In this section:

  1. International tourism performance 2015 - 2021
  2. Seasonality of international visits to Scotland
  3. Visits by purpose of trip
  4. Visits by global region
  5. About this data

1. International tourism performance 2015 - 2021

Chart showing visits, nights and spend data for international visitors visiting Scotland from 2015 to 2021 excluding 2020

Graph details

International visitors made a total of 479,000 visits to Scotland, staying for 7.6 million nights and spending £459 million. This is an 86% reduction in volume and an 82% reduction in expenditure on 2019. These estimates are based on a sample of 1,626 interviews.

Year Visits Nights Spend (£ million)
2019 3,460,100 27,385,319 2,538
2021 479,000 7,586,000 459
Change -86% -72% -82%

The average international visitor to Scotland in 2021 spent a total of £958 over a 15.8 day trip with a daily expenditure of £60. Longer stays (15.8 days in 2021 versus 7.9 in 2019) drove the increase in spend per trip, with actual daily expenditure 35% down on 2019 levels.

Year Spend/trip Nights/trip Spend/night
2019 £734 7.9 £93
2021 £958 15.8 £60
Change 31% 100% -35%

2. Seasonality of international visits to Scotland

A chart showing the season of travel (quarter) of international visitors visiting Scotland in 2021

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Despite lower overall levels of international visitors, performance has improved throughout 2021. This is because coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions eased and travel confidence 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). This was for the first time as reported by the international passenger survey.

3. Visit by purpose of trip

A chart showing the purpose of trip (holiday, visiting friends and relatives, business and other) for international trips made to Scotland in 2019 and 2021

Graph details

Let's look at the purpose of trip that motivates international visits to Scotland in 2021. It's significantly different to that seen before the pandemic. Travelling with the purpose of visiting friends and / or relatives 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. Visiting friends and relations outperformed it in both total volume and against 2019 proportions. This is despite visiting friends and relations only achieving 28% of 2019 level of visitation.

This increase in those visiting friends and relations within the visitor mix has resulted in longer stays (16 days). But compared to a traditional leisure visitor, this group is likely to spend less on:

  • Food and drink
  • Accommodation
  • Activities


There was a trend of higher expenditure per trip across all purposes of travel. Holiday expenditure per trip was up 26% 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 82,000 351,000 327,000 262,000 64,000 45,000 479,000
Change -89% -81% -79% -81% -68% -95% -86%

Short haul visitors made up the majority (73%) of visits to Scotland in 2021. This is in line with international consumer sentiment towards travel to the UK and Scotland.

The volume of visits from the North American market, a traditional market of strength for Scotland, was down 89% on 2019 levels.

European markets showed slightly more resilience at 81% down on 2019 levels).

“Other countries” were down 95% on pre-pandemic visitor volumes. The previously rapidly growing market of China falls under the category "other countries".

4. Visits by global region

A chart showing the origin of international visitors to Scotland in 2021

Graph details

5. 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 was suspended on 16 March 2020 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Interviewing initially began at UK airports at the start of 2021. The international passenger survey remained suspended at some sea ports and train stations during the year.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have applied the following processes to the data since March 2020:

  • The 2021 performance data contains all collected by the ONS throughout 2021
  • ONS didn't collect data 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
  • The sample for this period is very low so you should use caution when interpreting results

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