- By Douglas Fraser
- Business and economics editor, Scotland
American Linda Taylor and her friends are excited to be in Scotland for the first time.
Having planned their journey for years, they finally reached the shores of Loch Ness.
Linda, from Fort Lauderdale, said visiting Scotland had been on their bucket list for a long time.
“Because of Covid, it was postponed for a while, and now here we are – with the Loch Ness Monster,” he added.
“We’ve seen all the castles, and it’s great. The history, the scenery, it’s beautiful. I’m glad to have been here, and hope to come back again.”
Linda is among a growing number of Americans who plan to visit Scotland.
Bumper bookings from American travelers are driving a sharp revival for many parts of Scotland’s tourism industry, as new and renewed routes to Edinburgh take off from major cities in the US.
Hoteliers are reporting extraordinary numbers, driven by free publicity on TV drama Outlander, gothic survival TV show The Traitors, and news of the Queen’s last trip to Scotland last year.
They said the UK was among the first to benefit from the reopening of international travel for Americans following the pandemic.
The relatively weak value of sterling against the US dollar made Britain seem like good value.
Edinburgh Airport started new links this month to Atlanta, Georgia, and also to Calgary in Canada, while continuing links to Boston and Chicago.
Following Brexit, it has been successful in attracting a larger share of transatlantic travel than Glasgow, which previously dominated.
And the capital’s airport has a higher share of inbound American travelers – compared to outbound travelers from the UK – than any other major airport in Britain.
Between March and October last year, more than half of passengers on US flights started their journey in the US, up from 76% in August last year.
American visitors to Scotland
In 2019, before the pandemic, 636,000 US citizens visited Scotland.
Americans accounted for 18% of international visitor numbers.
Their total expenditure for the year came to £717m.
Each visitor to the US spends an average of £161 per day.
The average length of stay is 6.7 nights.
Edinburgh Airport chief executive Gordon Dewar said there was a big change in the spread after the summer months, with more airlines continuing to fly these routes into the autumn.
“We were on a growth trajectory, and post-Covid, it really accelerated.
“The American market is the fastest on the block. They stopped travel restrictions a year before Europe did, so they’re ready to go.”
Mr Dewar reported that transatlantic passenger numbers are 25% higher this year than before the pandemic.
“We have more destinations, higher frequencies and a really interesting development is we have longer periods.
“An American airline said Edinburgh was its most profitable first year on a transatlantic route.”
Ina Davies, of the Highland Hotels Association and general manager at the Courtyard by Marriot hotel at Inverness Airport, said many of her customers use Inverness as a base for the North Coast 500 road route.
Some of them, he added, were inspired by the American version of The Traitors, which was filmed at Ardross Castle in Easter Ross for the UK and for its American versions.
Ms Davies said the weak pound had also boosted the number of American visitors.
But he added that there had been a “loss of confidence in ferries”, so there was more caution from visitors about using CalMac to travel.
Adam McMaster, manager at the Clansman Hotel near Drumnadrochit on the shores of Loch Ness, also argues that sterling’s weakness against the dollar is having a clear impact on bookings.
“There’s been a pretty disappointing international travel market in the last few years,” he explains.
“Now, we’re seeing the freedom of travel again. These trips require a bit of tweaking, so a few months ago, when the pound was particularly low against the dollar, we saw these bookings that is increasing, and that gives us a good idea that it’s going to be a very good year.”
Whiskey remains the top attraction for those going to the Highlands, Mr McMaster said. In Loch Ness, “not everyone comes here to hunt monsters, but it’s still contagious”.
He added: “It’s a bucket list destination for a lot of people, planning this trip for years. So when people come here, it’s to make the most of it, and that’s a good thing for in the Highlands.”
Claire Spencer, from Massachusetts, said she was influenced in her decision to visit Scotland by the TV series Outlander.
“I became a huge Outlander fan, and I said I’d really like to see that place. We planned a trip three years ago which got by the wayside because of Covid, and I re-planned it. So here we are.”
Shane Hunt and Nancy Duvalle who live near Seattle, went to Scotland to celebrate his 50th birthday.
“My husband gave me the trip,” he explained.
“We’ve always loved the country. I’m a golfer. This is a golfer’s paradise.
“And the whiskey was another good thing. He’s a castle and Outlander fan, so it was easy for us to enjoy.”