TV series fuels record year for Scotland’s heritage sites

Geraldine Kendall Adams, Issue 119/04, 01.04.2019
Visitors to Historic Environment Scotland’s attractions rose 5% in 2018 on the back of the Year of Young People initiative and an improved visitor experience. By Caroline Parry
The impact of the Outlander television series, investment in the visitor experience and the Year of Young People helped to drive record-breaking visitor figures for Historic Environment Scotland last year.

The public body, which looks after more than 300 heritage sites, reported a 5% increase in footfall to 5.23 million at its staffed sites. Memberships also rose 5% to more than 200,000.

Edinburgh Castle remained the most-visited site with 2.12 million visitors in 2018. Stirling Castle was the second-most-visited site, with Urquhart Castle, on the banks of Loch Ness, which attracted more than 500,000 visitors for the first time, in third.

Sites featured in cult TV series Outlander continued to enjoy a rise in footfall. Blackness Castle in Linlithgow welcomed more than 50,000 visitors for the first time – a 36% increase on 2017 – while Doune Castle, in central Scotland, and Craigmillar Castle, in Edinburgh, recorded rises.

Gillian MacDonald, the head of business development and enterprise at Historic Environment Scotland, says: “Film and TV tourism is making a real difference, and we expect that will continue with this year’s Mary Queen of Scots and Outlaw King films.”

Historic Environment Scotland is looking to capitalise on the film and TV exposure by introducing Mary Queen of Scots and Outlander routes that take in key sites.

The Year of Young People was a particular success for Historic Environment Scotland, according to MacDonald. Events such as Knight at the Castle, the first late event at Edinburgh Castle, which featured bars, live music and entertainment, specifically targeted older teens. The organisation’s touring Lego exhibition proved successful at regional sites, with Aberdour Castle in Fife reporting a 43% increase on 2017.

Historic Environment Scotland also worked with the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) and Historic Houses Association to offer £1 entry to holders of the Young Scot card. The scheme, which saw more than 8,000 tickets sold across Scotland, has been extended for two years.

As part of Historic Environment Scotland’s three-year investment programme, the visitor experience has also been improved. Last year, this included the first permanent exhibition at Edinburgh Castle since 2002. Fight for the Castle, which received £332,000 of investment, opened in October.

With no major plans for this year, MacDonald says there will be longer-term projects at sites in the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway regions. “It’s not just about attracting people to our sites, but also about the wider value it generates for Scotland,” MacDonald says.

Historic Environment Scotland staffed sites generated £620m in local tourism spend in 2018, up from £590m the previous year. The figures are in line with the recent Association for Scottish Visitor Attractions results, which highlighted that visits to castles and heritage sites increased 4.2% last year.

NTS also reported a rise in visits, with properties in the north west of the country performing particularly well. Clea Warner, general manager for the north west, says this is illustrated by Brodie Castle, where the opening of the family-friendly Playful Garden fuelled a 71% year-on-year increase in visitor numbers.

“The garden signals where the NTS is going, as it is interactive, memorable and playful, but is embedded with authenticity,” says Warner.

The NTS has undergone a significant overhaul over the past three years, which has involved a shift to a regional management structure. Last year, the organisation published a five-year strategy that outlined plans to invest £60m in its properties.

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