Heightened visitor numbers help prove railway's success

It's full steam ahead for Borders tourism businesses, who are celebrating the release of new figures which suggest that the arrival of the Borders Railway has been a huge boost.

Tuesday, 31st January 2017, 3:22 pm
Updated Tuesday, 31st January 2017, 3:25 pm
From left: Councillor Stuart Bell, SBC's executive member for economic development, Nicola Duffy of Born in the Borders, Annika Meiklejohn of Tempest Brewery and Giles Ingram of Abbotsford House toast the new data which shows tourism in the Borders has seen a major boost since the introduction of the Borders Railway.

The aptly-acronymed Scottish Tourism Economic Assessment Monitor (STEAM) statistics show a significant improvement in key tourism performance figures in the first half of 2016, compared to the first half of 2015 when the railway was still being built.

Councillor Stuart Bell, SBC’s executive member for economic development, added: “Tourism is absolutely vital to the Borders’ economy, and that is why this substantial rise in tourism activity in the first half of 2016 is so important.

“For the first time in a decade, the Borders have shown improved results in every STEAM category – the only area of mainland Scotland to do so for this period.

“The introduction of the railway has undoubtedly contributed to these figures.”

Mr Bell added: The 27% increase in the acccomodation sector shows we are moving away from simply being Scotland’s leading short break destination, and more and more people are staying overnight.”

The STEAM figures for the Borders also show:

● A 20 per cent rise in visitor spend on food and drink

● Visitor spend on accommodation is up 17 per cent

● A 16 per cent rise in overall visitor spend

● The number of days visitors stayed in the Borders has increased by almost 11 per cent

● Eight per cent increase in employment related to tourism.

The figures also show increased numbers in tourism-related businesses in Midlothian.

One of the businesses which has undoubtedly benefited from the railway is Abbotsford House.

Giles Ingram, chief executive of the Abbotsford Trust, told us: “Over the course of last year, we estimate that our visitor numbers were up about 10 %, which we directly attribute to the railway, because it has opened us up far more to the Edinburgh market, whether it be people who live in Edinburgh or have based their holiday there and come down for a visit.

“When the weather is good, the majority of people do choose to walk to Abbotsford from the station. The fastest route is through Tweedbank, but there is another route, which not many people are aware of, but it is far more scenic and it takes you there along the banks of the Tweed.”

And while the new Born in the Borders kiosk has been open for only a week, and is therefore not included in the STEAM statistics, its manager Nicola Duffy said that passengers seem to have welcomed the new facility, which also provides the station with its first public toilet.

Mrs Duffy said: “We were really delighted to be asked to tender for it.

“The official launch was just a week ago, so visitor numbers are difficult to gauge.

“These are the sort of facilities that people were crying out for, though, and we have had a lot of custom from daily commuters.”

Alasdair Smart, the ScotRail Alliance’s tourism manager, said: “We are proud to play our part in creating a positive Borders Railway experience, and it’s fantastic to see such significant growth in tourists and visitors to this beautiful part of Scotland.”

Long-time champion of the railway, Christine Grahame MSP, added: “These figures are great news for the Borders, with visitors staying longer and spending more on both accommodation and food and drink.

“We’re already seeing an increase in tourism employment as a result and it’s important we continue to capitalise on greater visitor numbers to create real regeneration and opportunities for our communities.

“The Great Tapestry of Scotland’s visitor centre is due to open in Galashiels in 2020 and I believe if we lay the groundwork now we can use it as further incentive to draw even more visitors down the railway and onwards to attractions such as the Borders Textile Trail, reinvigorating the local area.

“I campaigned for the railway for many years because I believed it offered both greater connectivity for residents and the chance to attract more tourists to come and explore all the Borders has to offer. I’m pleased to see this now starting to come to fruition.”