- Tourism Market Research
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Most travellers will come to Scotland regardless of the referendum outcome; English tourists, however, are more likely to stay away from an independent Scotland.
In 2013, almost 15 million overnight tourism trips were taken in Scotland. In 2014 – the year of the Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup and a range of other high profile events – Scotland may see an even higher number of visitors. But what if Scotland were to become an independent country? Would that make visitors more inclined to visit? Or will travellers stay away from the country that opted to split up the United Kingdom?
Tourism market research specialists LJ Research surveyed nearly 700 people who recently holidayed in the UK – the majority of whom visited from overseas countries – to ask if they were more or less likely to visit an independent Scotland.
As shown in the chart below, the vast majority of respondents stated that their decision to visit Scotland would be unaffected by the referendum decision. This in itself is good news as it means that tourism businesses should continue to expect similar levels of tourism inflows regardless of the outcome on September 18th.
Tourists’ likelihood to visit an independent Scotland
Whilst the views of individual segments analysed were broadly consistent, there were a few interesting differences when looking at residency groups: notably, English respondents were more likely to state that they are less inclined to visit an independent Scotland compared to international visitors (17.1% compared to 8.3%, respectively).
In the words of three English respondents who visited Scotland within the last 12 months:
“We are a tiny nation. I love Scotland. I don’t want to be separated. I will stop going there if Scotland leaves us. It should stay the UNITED Kingdom”
“If Scotland were to become independent other British tourists may be put off by having to use a different currency and because they are upset that Scotland has separated from the UK.”
“I feel that an independent Scotland would be perceived as being less welcoming.”
These comments suggest that English visitors in particular feel that an independent Scotland would weaken and ‘distance’ their relationship with the country and, potentially, generate increased barriers to visiting: English respondents were more concerned about border controls and currency exchange rates that would come with Scotland being a separate country.
Sean Morgan, Managing Director of LJ Research said: “These findings suggest that Scottish tourism businesses don’t have to worry too much about the outcome of the referendum. That said, tourism businesses that have high exposure to English markets should tailor their marketing messages and operational services to ensure that those from south of the border are made to feel unequivocally welcome.”
“Respondents were very concerned about border controls, visa requirements and currency exchange rates that may come with Scotland splitting up from the UK. It is likely that Scotland’s tourism industry will suffer if it cannot continue using Sterling as this factor will likely act as a barrier among inbound visitors’ decision.”
Whilst English visitors were more sentimental about Scotland leaving the UK, overseas visitors, particularly those from United States, saw the positive sides of the divorce:
“I think that independence can offer Scotland the identity of a unique nation, different from its neighbour. Thus this uniqueness can attract more tourists who may say that they are visiting Scotland and not just the United Kingdom.”
“A ‘Yes’ vote in the independence referendum would reinforce the view of the Scots as a fiercely independent people. It can only help their image as a country and benefit tourism. Being; essentially; a poor stepsister of England does not enhance their image at all.”
LJ Research also surveyed Scottish residents who have recently toured in the UK. Rather than asking them if they were more or less likely to visit an independent Scotland, LJ Research asked them if they thought that an independent Scotland would attract fewer or more tourists from elsewhere.
Most Scottish residents (60.3%) thought that people’s decision to visit Scotland would be unaffected by the referendum; however, nearly a quarter of Scottish residents thought that an independent Scotland would attract more tourism compared to only 9.5% who thought that independence would detract tourists from visiting. These results indicate that Scottish residents are fairly optimistic about the potential impact of independence on tourism which is in contrast to the sentiment observed among English residents.