From the Development of Tourism Act 1969 to the opening of the V&A Museum, Dundee last year, Scotland has become a tourism giant since the first official Scottish Tourist Board was formed half a century ago.

This year VisitScotland is celebrating 50 years of working with the Scottish tourism industry and its rise to one of Scotland’s most important sectors of the economy.

Over the last five decades tourism’s value has gone from an estimated £100 million a year (£1.6 billion in today’s money) to £11.3 billion and from employing 58,300 people in 1969 to 206,000 people today.

And 50 years ago, there were 5.12 million people visiting Scotland compared to 15 million today.

Tourism is a major success story for Scotland. It benefits communities across the country and there’s capacity to continue to grow the sector in a sustainable way in the coming years, capitalising on Scotland’s credentials as a world leading destination.

This year’s anniversary is highly likely to cause an outbreak of nostalgia amongst some. For example, if you were there, who could forget the 80s colourful “Scotland’s For Me” campaign. Launched to the world, this marked the national tourism organisation’s largest marketing movement ever and featured a peppy theme song with an eye-catching rainbow logo along with the top celebrities of the day popping up in their TV adverts.

Dallas actor Larry Hagman endorsed Scotland’s “finest tweeds and tartans”, golf legend Jack Nicklaus championed the Home of Golf and comedian Rod Hull, along with his trusty pet companion Emu, were heading “over the rainbow” for a holiday in Scotland.

This was one of many key moments in the evolution of marketing Scotland to new audiences around the world.

The team working up these ideas were at the cutting edge of promotion, reaching an ever expanding audience with a mix of celebrity and humour, and these campaigns were innovative, setting the benchmark that other tourism organisations around the world had to measure up to.

Identifying and harnessing trends in marketing, combining them with visitor behaviour and working hard to capitalise on them – this has been the key to the success of tourism in Scotland.

One of those trends is screen tourism. Film and TV productions not only showcase the unique mix of stunning landscapes, rich heritage and fascinating stories Scotland offers, but can inspire set-jetting fans to visit.

In fact VisitScotland research shows that one in five visitors come here after seeing Scotland on the big and small screen.

VisitScotland works with film and TV production companies to maximize the potential of each and every film and TV series filmed in and featuring Scotland.

Outlander is perhaps the best known of these right now – a major global phenomenon which has caused visitor numbers to sites associated with the series to spike and Outlander tours to be created for devotees of Diana Gabaldon’s novels and the TV series.

Add recent historical dramas Outlaw King and Mary Queen of Scots to this and the stage is set for this trend to go from strength to strength.

Spotting trends is a vital element of successful tourism campaigns and earlier this year VisitScotland dedicated its annual trends paper to examining the ‘global consumer phenomena’ of wellness tourism, highlighting a range of micro-trends that can help visitors enhance and maintain their personal wellbeing.

Valued globally at $639bn in 2017, wellness tourism has grown more than twice as fast as tourism overall with more and more visitors looking for immersive experiences or ways to improve self-development.

In response we launched an itinerary dedicated to health and wellbeing. The online guide, which focuses on the themes of mind, body and spirit, aims to inspire visitors to consider ways how they can enhance and maintain their personal happiness and welfare.

Getting ahead has always been the mantra for tourism in Scotland and through EventScotland Scotland has been bidding for and securing major events for the last 16 years. Established to support the development and growth of a burgeoning and world reknowned events sector, the team has ensured Scotland has become a world leader in major events.

Always closely aligned with VisitScotland,
EventScotland became fully integrated within the National Tourism Organisation in April 2007, ensuring the country maximises the opportunities presented through event tourism. And success has grown over the years demonstrated by this year’s staging of the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles and the recent award to stage the inaugural UCI Cycling World Championships in August 2023.

There’s always been a sense of real ambition for tourism. We had our first year of Homecoming in 2009, a success in its own right, and the celebration of Scotland in the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns provided a way forward, uniting the industry through a series of themed years.

These led into and, some were part of, the ‘Winning Years’ as we built up to 2014 and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and The 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. That year we ran our Brilliant Moments campaign and delivered another Homecoming Scotland events programme.

Scotland really showed the world what it could do and, as we said at the time, was in the spotlight as never before and we’ve never looked back.

Since then the accolades for Scotland have come in thick and fast in recent years, including “Most Beautiful Country in the World” as voted by readers of Rough Guide.

Scotland is a destination people want to discover and that they want to explore more of. Our campaigns and partnerships with the industry, with airlines and in more recent years with digital companies like Google and TripAdvisor have made it possible for visitors to be inspired by and to travel to Scotland.

The rise of social media has led to a significant change in VisitScotland’s marketing methods over the last decade. Our campaigns that now target digital channels are a far cry from the two million brochures printed and posted out around the world 50 years ago.

The Spirit of Scotland was the first global, digital campaign giving birth to the popular #ScotSpirit hashtag in 2016, which has been shared over 250,000 times.

This was followed by Scotland Is Now – a global movement that marked another change in marketing as VisitScotland, the Scottish Government, Scottish Development International and Universities Scotland joined forces to create a campaign platform showcasing the country’s assets to a global audience.

Our latest activity for Europe – Scotland is Open – is our best performing campaign to date with record levels of engagement. Launched to counter Brexit uncertainty in key markets, more than 79 million people were reached with 52 million plays of our ad and half of these were watched through to completion.

Looking to the future the possibilities are limitless.

As an industry tourism has shown itself to be imaginative, resilient and able to embrace new technology. By extending partnerships and building new connections we can keep the story of success going.

For example, Legends, VisitScotland’s first digital campaign for the Business Events market which was awarded the International Congress and Convention Association Best Marketing Award in November 2018, and achieved a silver award for digital marketing at the Adrian Awards in New York earlier this year.

Business Events are an integral element of promoting Scotland as a place to live, work, visit and invest, generating a spend at the four main conference centres in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen of £1.1 billion every year.

Through Legends we’re focusing on the things Scotland does exceptionally well including technology, life sciences, education, energy and shouting about these strengths.

It’s also a great example of collaboration, involving over 70 organisations throughout Scotland, generating £9.4 million worth of enquiries which has converted £2 million worth of confirmed business.

There’s a huge appetite out there for Scotland amongst visitors and potential partners. We’re making new connections all the time which will benefit the visitor economy.

There’s real ambition to grow the industry and new investment in assets like the V&A Museum, Dundee, the SSE Arena and TECA – Aberdeen’s state of the art events complex, Diageo’s investment in new visitor facilities in its distilleries and the planned Johnnie Walker Whisky Centre in Edinburgh, all add to innovations like the North Coast 500, which are keeping us ahead of competitor destinations.

Our story is a shared story and everyone involved in tourism has contributed to the success we enjoy today and the successes of the future.

The UNWTO predicts international global travel to grow 3 to 4 per cent each year to 2030. As the industry works on a new strategy to take it through the next decade it is positioning itself to harness the opportunity presented by this predicted growth.