The United States is Scotland’s biggest international market, welcoming over half a million visitors in 2016, an 18% increase in visitors and a 40% increase in spend from North America. This year, expectations are even higher.
Jonathan Epstein, owner of Atlanta, Georgia-based Celebrated Experiences, has been booking Scotland since 1990, but this year has been dramatically different.
“This is without question the best year ever. If you just look at our 2017 numbers as of today, we are already up 23% compared to last year's final room night numbers and 45% up on 2015's final room night tally,” he said.
The secret is out: Scotland’s top cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow, are wonderful. The Scottish Highlands are magical. Distillery experiences are better than ever. Golf is more accessible. It is a great destination for outdoors and adventure travel. It is also an incredible food destination as Edinburgh alone has five Michelin-starred restaurants with only a population of 500,000, say purveyors of Scottish travel products.
“Scotland is more connected than ever before through transport and digital channels, giving it a louder voice within key markets,” said Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland.
Norwegian Air kicked off three new routes to Scotland this season: from Newburgh’s Stewart Airport in New York’s Hudson Valley; T.F. Green Airport in Providence, RI; and Bradley International Airport in Hartford, CT adding 135,000 new seats.
“Just in time for Edinburgh’s famed festival season, we are delighted to be working with Norwegian and VisitScotland to introduce new direct flights from the U.S. into Scotland’s capital. Edinburgh’s legendary festivals are celebrating their 70th anniversary this year so these new route launches couldn’t come at a better time and give more Americans the chance to experience all the special events taking place this summer,” said Paul Gauger, VisitBritain’s EVP for the Americas.
The Pleasance Courtyard venue during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Photo: VisitScotland
Other carriers are also operating seasonal and year-round flights: American Airlines operates flights from JFK to Edinburgh through October, and from Philadelphia to Glasgow through September; Delta Air Lines kicked off seasonal flights from JFK to Glasgow in May, adding to its existing year-round JFK to Edinburgh service; United Airlines operates year-round service to Edinburgh and Glasgow from Newark while adding seasonal service between Chicago and Glasgow through October; and Virgin Airlines operates summer service between Glasgow and Orlando.
“Because of the current boom and the quality of the destination many investors are looking at opportunities in Scotland for new hotels. I also expect that airlines will begin adding even more flights into Edinburgh and Glasgow,” Epstein said.
On the ground, Scotland features many of Europe's best properties, such as Gleneagles. Last month, the four-star 282-room Leonardo Royal Hotel opened, located close to the Haymarket railways station in Edinburgh. And in the town known as the gateway to the highlands, Oban, the new luxury 60-room Perle Oban debuted with views over the harbor.
One of the most anticipated re-openings is likely The Fife Arms in Braemar. The majestic 19th-century property will open its doors once again in June 2018, following a restoration to return it to its former splendor as a first-class property in the scenic village famed for the Braemar Gathering annual Highland games and its Royal Deeside connections.
This month, The Courtyard Edinburgh West by Marriott hotel at Edinburgh’s Herriot Watt campus will debut; a new 175-room hotel will open on Glasgow’s Argyle Street in late 2017; and a Radisson Red hotel is expected to open near the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in early 2018.
Tour operators go green
CIE Tours has always featured Scotland in a big way, and has continued to expand its product range to include a brand, new five-day winter series to experience Scotland from November to March, including a special New Year’s departure for the Hogmanay festival.
The Travel Corporation's HAGGiS Adventures brand (Busabout's partner in Scotland), geared for backpackers, offers 10 Scotland itineraries that explore the Highlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Ben Nevis, Inverness, the Isle of Skye, Loch Ness, Orkney and the Western Isles, plus trips that celebrate Christmas in the Highlands and New Year in Edinburgh.
Likewise, Contiki posts short-stay products targeting younger travelers that start either in Edinburgh or London.
Road trips also are popular with U.S. visitors, though, said market manager for the Americas Simon Bergenroth. Among the most popular itineraries are: Scotland’s Castle Trail, Scotland’s TV & Film Locations, with Outlander the primary driving of the ‘set-jetting’ trend to visit filming locations of this worldwide hit-series, Road Trip: 7 Days East Scotland and Road Trip: 7 Days West Scotland.
A new visitor center is coming to Bladnoch Distillery
For clients who prefer leaving the driving to others, Tenon Tours prepares hopper tours that allow individuals or small groups to personalize their trip with attractions and experiences, while Authentic Vacations, part of the Irish Welcome Tours B-2-B wholesaler brand, sells a wide selection of custom, FIT & luxury products for Scotland. Tenon has recently updated its dedicated travel trade website (visitscotlandtraveltrade.com), which provides a one-stop-shop to support the travel trade to package and promote Scotland in their markets. The site now has a wealth of information such as Scottish supplier information, marketing and sales toolkits, and themed-year information, as well as the SCOTSagent destination education program.
For next year, travel agents can expect to see more improvements: Moat Brae, the birthplace of Peter Pan, is due to re-open to the public just in time for the Year of Young People; the V&A Dundee is set to debut as Scotland's first design museum; and Brodie Castle will get a new visitors’ pavilion leading to a “Garden for Playfulness."
The Holyrood Park Distillery will bring single malt distilling back to Edinburgh after almost 100 years; Hawick Whisky Distillery is set to become the first Scotch whisky distillery in the Borders since 1837; and new visitor centers will be coming to the Bladnoch, the Macallan and the Orkney Distilleries.