SCOTLAND welcomed its highest number of international visitors ever last year as growth returned to pre-pandemic levels, figures show.

A passenger survey carried out by the Office for National Statistics showed almost four million overseas tourists travelled to Scotland last year, an increase of 15% on 2019 levels.

There were 3.9m visits to Scotland in 2023, up 23% from the year before.

The previous record for international visits was in 2018 when Scotland welcomed 3.7m overseas tourists.

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Inbound visitors spent £3.5 billion in 2023, up 13% from the previous year and 41% from 2019.

Visits from Europe accounted for 58% of all inbound visits in 2023, followed by North America at 24%.

VisitScotland chief executive Malcolm Roughead said: “These figures mark a turning point for tourism in Scotland, showing not only recovery, but crucially growth, in international visitors with number of visits and spend now above 2019 levels.

“Scotland is the only UK region to have reached this milestone. They (the tourists) are further evidence of the strength of Scotland’s offering and the clear desire for people across the world to experience this, with record demand from North America.

“Our international visitors are hugely important to Scotland’s tourism industry, as well as the wider economy. They often stay longer and spend more, generating several billions of pounds annually, supporting a wide range of businesses, jobs and communities across the country.

“With many businesses still recovering from the challenges of the pandemic and current economic climate, this will be welcome news.

“Early feedback from tourism businesses, travel trade and airline partners are this international demand is continuing into 2024 with increasing interest for visiting at different times of the year and exploring lesser-known locations.

“At VisitScotland we are not complacent and remain focused on delivering our core purpose to drive the visitor economy and sustainably grow its value in Scotland.

“This includes influencing both international and domestic visitors before they leave home through our digital channels, as well as working with travel trade and transport partners to support tourism businesses here in Scotland.

“By encouraging regional and seasonal spread we can ensure Scotland remains a competitive year-round, must-see, must-return destination.”