Historic Environment Scotland’s general visitor numbers have been steadily increasing since 2014. The number of overseas visitors to sites in its care has increased by an estimated 41 per cent in five years. That figure, which is based on visitor sampling across the estate, clearly indicates the growth of the organisation’s international market in recent years. The reduction in the value of the pound since 2016 and the expansion of passenger numbers through Edinburgh airport are two of the driving forces behind the increase. Historic Environment Scotland seeks to maintain that by working with partners, communities and stakeholders to develop a strategic vision and plans for prioritised sites.
I welcome the higher figures for visitors to historic sites, which are a welcome boost to our economy, especially locally, with a number of such sites having benefited from being film locations for United States-financed dramas such as “Outlander”. However, the cabinet secretary will be aware of an increase—in both her constituency and mine—in the number of foreign visitors visiting film locations at points of historic interest, which has resulted in increased traffic on local roads. Is she aware of any plans that Historic Environment Scotland or the National Trust for Scotland might have to erect “keep left” signs at exits from their properties, similar to those that are located at sea ports and airports and on tourist routes, to act as a reminder to foreign drivers who might be unfamiliar with driving in Scotland and the wider UK?
Transport Scotland is not aware of any general plans to install “keep left” signs at properties. Before anything was to be placed on a public road, consultation with the roads authorities would be required. However, the member may be aware that, yesterday, at Urquhart castle, Police Scotland and road safety Scotland launched a new campaign to remind tourists to drive on the left. The campaign, which coincides with the peak tourism season, encourages visitors to enjoy Scottish roads safely.
A new-look tourist information leaflet on driving in Scotland will be distributed when people pick up hire cars, and an electronic version will be issued at the time of booking. In addition, “drive on the left” wrist bands in multiple languages, which are to be worn on the left wrist by drivers, will be distributed via car rental companies to remind and prompt visitors to keep left.
Although it is good news that Historic Environment Scotland has seen a 5 per cent increase in visitor numbers in the past year, with Blackness castle having seen a 36 per cent increase, that will add to the infrastructure and maintenance costs at sites. Over the past two years, Historic Environment Scotland has seen a 12 per cent cut in its budget, and, although the increased revenue is important, it does not compensate for that reduction.
What discussions is the cabinet secretary having with the heritage sector about its ability to meet visitor demand, including for improved accessibility?
As we speak, the eastern borders of Linlithgow are being inspected at Blackness, which is the port for the town. As the member said, there has been a major increase in visitor numbers, which is related to “Outlander”.
Last week, at Doune castle, which doubles as Castle Leoch in “Outlander”, I announced the latest round of our rural tourism infrastructure fund, which exists precisely to make sure that there is added investment. Doune village will be better connected to the castle so that it can benefit from the increasing tourist numbers. Given the increasing pressure of numbers, we are working with local communities across the country to ensure that there is infrastructure such as car parking, facilities, signage and paths.
Historic Environment Scotland’s overall spend has been maintained, partly because it has seen an increase in visitor numbers and, indeed, because the generation of its external funding has increased. We are very conscious of that. However, I stress that, at a time of difficult financial pressures, we have managed to maintain the grant funding that Historic Environment Scotland gives to others. It has been able to maintain its investment precisely because of the increased tourist numbers complemented by the investment by the Scottish Government.
In recent years, the Scottish Government has, for the first time, provided capital investment to Historic Environment Scotland specifically to help with its infrastructure needs. That has been welcomed by the Historic Environment Scotland board.