THE Tourism Secretary has praised VisitScotland ahead of its 50th anniversary this week.

Fiona Hyslop hailed Scotland’s national tourism organisation, which has been promoting Scottish tourism and the country’s presence in the world since 1969.

The body celebrates its golden anniversary on Thursday.

Hyslop said that VisitScotland “has come a long way in that time and this is an appropriate point to reflect on the organisation’s journey”.

She continued: “It’s fair to say that over the last 50 years, Scotland’s tourism industry has grown to become a powerhouse of the country’s economy. Tourism has gone from a value of an estimated £100 million (£1.6 billion in today’s money) to now being worth £11bn to the Scottish economy.

“That’s a staggering £9.4bn increase over 50 years. And while 58,300 people were employed in tourism in 1969, there are 206,000 people working in the industry today. Overall visitor numbers have tripled in that time, with 15.3m visiting in 2018 compared to 5.12m 50 years ago – the number of overseas visitors in that period has increased fivefold.”

Over the last few years, Scotland has increasingly become known as a tourist destination, with around one in every 12 jobs serving the industry.

The country has seen a boost in visitors from America, Germany, France, Canada, and Poland in particular, and the sector is keen to attract new audiences.

The aim is now to increase the cash intake from tourism by another £1bn by 2020.

Hyslop continued: “Our tourism industry continues to flourish, acting as a magnet for visitors from around the world who are drawn to our first-class attractions and unrivalled scenery.

“That expansion has not happened by chance. Today’s success owes much to the vision of pioneers within this resilient and resourceful industry. Throughout its existence, VisitScotland has given help and practical assistance to millions of visitors and businesses and has increased Scotland’s profile internationally.

“Crucially, VisitScotland has improved the quality of the industry and visitor experience thanks to a range of accreditation schemes.”

Hyslop also praised VisitScotland’s work with the Family Holiday Association on its ScotSpirit Breaks programme. The scheme helps low-income families get a holiday when they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do so.

So far, the project has helped more than 1000 families take a break. Some 97% of those who took part said they were able to visit somewhere they had never been thanks to the programme, while 90% said they were better equipped to cope on a daily basis after the experience.

In addition, Hyslop hailed VisitScotland’s work on major sporting events.

She continued: “With the support of VisitScotland in raising our profile, Scotland has been able to secure a series of major events in recent years, not least the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Ryder Cup and the upcoming Solheim Cup at Gleneagles in September.”

But she warned the greatest challenges for the industry lie in the next six months.

“With the ongoing uncertainty of EU exit and the end of freedom of movement, coupled with rising costs for both businesses and individuals, we must not take the successes of recent years for granted.

“That is why the Scottish Government will continue to work with VisitScotland and the industry to support the sustainable growth of the sector as it creates jobs, boosts the local and national economy and builds on our strong international reputation.”