Scottish tourism holds onto Homecoming hope


By Sally Edgar

Scotland’s tourism industry faces yet another “challenging” year, as reports show that it has suffered higher losses than anywhere else in the UK.

The report, issued by accountants PKF, shows that hotel occupancy north of the border has slumped by 4.1% in the last year.

This news comes as Scotland promotes Scottish Tourism Week, which is now in its fourth year. But Edinburgh council, among others, has voiced plans to divert money away from VisitScotland to market themselves. With tourism providing the economy with £4.2 billion, hotel chiefs have described the decrease in Scotland’s popularity as “very concerning”. It is also alarming, in the current economic climate, that this slump could put many jobs at risk.

Tourism employs one in every 11 people in the Scottish workforce, roles which could prove redundant if the number of visitors continues to fall.

PKF said the immediate outlook was still grim, with the hospitality industry “facing one of its toughest challenges for some time”.

Alastair Rae, a partner at PKF specialising in the hospitality and leisure sector, said: “The decline in both occupancy and rooms-yield in Scotland has increased in pace toward the year-end and looks likely to continue into 2009. Reductions in both business and leisure expenditure are now having a serious impact upon the sector.

Experts are hoping that this year’s Homecoming could be the short-term saviour for the country’s economy. The event – which celebrates the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth – is hoped to draw tourists from all over the world. With more than 300 events running from Burns’ Night (25th January) to St. Andrew’s Day (30th November), the celebrations could give Scotland a “unique advantage” over other countries. During the recession, this could be the all-important boost that is needed to get Scotland back on track.

Dr. Joe Goldblatt, a tourism expert at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, said the Year of Homecoming could provide a vital catalyst to boost Scotland’s economy and get its successful reputation for tourism back on track.

He said: “It could have a very positive domino effect if the Scottish diaspora who visit tell their friends back home Scotland is good value for money, as word of mouth is the best advertising. The event has given Scotland a unique and cost-effective advantage.

As Homecoming Scotland 2009 provides an intimate look into history of Scottish tradition, locals and tradespeople will be hoping that the event will provide enough income to give the tradition a future.