THE number of overseas visitors from Europe increased by 22% in the 12 months to the end of September 2018, according to official statistics.

In the same period, spending by European visitors in Scotland also rose 7%, jumping from £1.08 billion to £1.15bn.

The Office for National Statistics report also revealed a growing number of international visitors choosing to visit Scotland.

There was a 14.3% increase in overseas overnight visits to Scotland, from 3.1 to 3.5 million, and a 3.3% rise in overseas tourism expenditure in Scotland, from £2.18bn to £2.25bn.

Tourism Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “I am pleased that Scotland’s tourism industry continues to perform strongly, despite the challenges posed by Brexit. The sector continues to attract an increasing number of visitors from the EU and beyond, who come to enjoy our varied heritage and breath-taking natural landscapes – outperforming the UK in attracting overseas visitors.

“As visitors continue to come to Scotland, spending more time in the country and travelling to more destinations, this is a welcome boost for tourism businesses across all of Scotland.”

“European and international visitors are a huge asset to our tourism sector, economy and wider wellbeing. As set out in our recent discussion paper, all the scenarios point to Brexit – and the end of free movement of people – having a damaging effect on the recruitment and retention of EU staff in the tourism sector.

“We will do all we can to ensure European visitors can continue to travel to Scotland freely and provide the certainty that people and businesses want.”

The figures were released as Scotland’s top five holiday destinations for 2018 were revealed.

Loch Ness, Loch Lomond, Oban, Skye and the Isle of Arran were the most popular places to visit, according to Cottages & Castles, Scotland’s longest established self-catering agency.

Their report showed a 7% increase in the number of large houses being booked during 2018. Three of the most popular choices in 2018 were Jordanstone House in Blairgowrie, Drumblair House in Aberdeenshire and Kilfinan House in Argyll.

Customers bookings through Cottages & Castles were primarily from Scotland at 55%, with 40% coming from the rest of the UK and overseas visitors accounting for 5%.