Visitor numbers to attractions in Scotland plummeted by almost 34 million (63.2%) in 2020, according to figures from the Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism at Glasgow Caledonian University.
The centre’s Visitor Attractions Monitor shows the devastating impact of Covid on the sector last year. Scotland’s most popular paid-for attraction in 2012, Edinburgh Castle, saw one of the steepest falls, with footfall down by 87.2%. Visitors to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh – the second most visited free attraction after the Royal Botanic Gardens – fell by 79.9% to 445,217.
Other museums in the top-five free attractions were the Scottish National Gallery and Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, whose figures were down 80.8% and 85.8% respectively.
The city’s Riverside Museum saw its numbers fall 81.9% to 246,933, while Edinburgh’s National War Museum’s visitors fell by 84.6%. The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway saw its numbers fall 65.9% to 88,976.
Outdoor heritage attractions performed better, with Culloden Visitor Centre bringing in 182,492 visitors after recording battlefield-only visits for the first time – a drop of just 12.7% on 2019.
The monitor found that 153 attractions remained closed for the full 12 months of 2020.
John Lennon, the director of the Moffat Centre, said domestic tourism would be vital to the visitor attractions sector in 2021. He said: “The impact of Covid-19 was felt across all aspects of the Scottish visitor attractions sector as travel was restricted, the international market collapsed and the wider economy was impacted.
“Attractions are an essential element of the Scottish visitor experience. With international tourism unlikely to return until well into 2022, domestic visitors will provide the sole source of income. Their custom will be vital going forward.”
Two-thirds of attractions expect to operate with reduced hours, services and facilities to keep costs down and around one in eight are not planning to open in 2021, according to further research by the centre, which expects sites to be around 30% less busy than normal this year.
Stakeholders have called for ongoing financial support from the UK and Scottish Governments, warning that some smaller attractions are at risk of closing for good.