THE pandemic has continued to devastate Scotland's visitor attractions, with the slump in international visitors expected to last until 2025, new data has revealed.

New figures, published today by ASVA, the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions, in conjunction with Glasgow Caledonian University’s Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism Development, reveal overall visitor numbers were more than 47% down on pre-pandemic levels.

Last year’s most visited paid-entry attraction was Edinburgh Zoo, with 632,122 visitors, whilst the National Museum of Scotland was the country’s top free attraction, with 660,741 visitors.

READ MORE: Here are Scotland's most popular visitor attractions in 2021

Paid-entry attractions welcomed just over nine million visitors during 2021, compared to more than 20 million in 2019 (a drop of 55%), while free venues had just over 20.2 million visitors last year compared to 35.5 million in 2019 (a drop of just over 43%).

Outdoor visitor attractions with grounds and open-air activities fared much better than predominantly indoor sites, showing the public's continued concerns about Covid transmission rates.

READ MORE: ‘Scotland starts here’ campaign to boost tourism to Borders and Dumfries and Galloway

Indoor venues were hit badly by the pandemic. Stirling Castle had 148,581 visitors in 2021 – an 88.1% increase from its 2020 total of 79,000 – however it saw a 75.6% decrease from its 2019 total of 609,698. Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum had 288,212 visitors in 2021, an 84.3% drop from its 2019 pre-pandemic total of 1,543,885.

Gordon Morrison, chief executive of ASVA, which represents more than 500 sites across Scotland, said: “Whilst visitor numbers in 2021 were up on the previous year, the latest figures highlight what a uniquely challenging time the visitor attractions sector, and wider tourism industry, has experienced over the past 12 months.

“The data provides clear evidence that our sector has been hit extremely hard for a considerably extended period of time due to the consequences of the pandemic. Although we’ve seen some very welcome positive signs that business at a number of attractions is beginning to bounce back, so many of our operators are still in survival mode, and the vast majority unfortunately still face a very long road ahead to recovery.”

The National: Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum is one of the attractions facing reduced visitor numbersKelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum is one of the attractions facing reduced visitor numbers

Professor John Lennon, director of the Moffat Centre at GCU, said: “We don’t foresee overseas visitor numbers returning to pre-pandemic levels until 2025 – so attractions will continue to be heavily reliant on the domestic market.

“Business recovery will depend very much on the custom of the people of Scotland and the UK.

“Visiting Scottish attractions not only demonstrates support of them, it helps safeguard the future of a sector that’s a vital contributor to the country’s economy and also performs a crucial custodial role in protecting Scotland’s heritage, culture and identity.”

ASVA has urged the UK and Scottish governments for additional assistance to stimulate recovery within the sector. The association is calling for a continuation of reduced level of VAT for attractions, as well as a continuation of 100% business rates relief.