Tourists getting the Melrose Abbey habit, new figures reveal

Melrose Abbey.
Melrose Abbey.

Melrose Abbey is named as the Borders’ most popular paid-for visitor attraction of its kind in a new list revealing a 15% rise in tourism in Scotland.

Latest figures from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions show that the number of tourists visiting the abbey shot up by 9% last year to 52,073.

Dawyck Botanic Garden.

Dawyck Botanic Garden.

That makes it the only Borders tourist attraction to feature in the association’s top 200 tourist draw, at No 200.

Dawyck Botanic Garden, south west of Peebles, isn’t far behind, however, making the list at No 216, with 34,319 visitors in 2016, up 1.6% on the year before.

They are among nine tourist attractions in the south of Scotland to make the top 250, the most popular being Culzean Castle, near Maybole, Carrick, at No 133 with 209,710 visitors, a fall of 5.6% on 2015.

The next most popular is the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum at Alloway, near Ayr. It’s at No 157 with 140,528 visits, up 28.6% year on year.

The country’s two biggest tourist draws are in the capital, just a 30-mile journey along the Borders Railway from Tweedbank – the National Museum of Scotland, with 1,810,948 visits, putting it at No 15, and Edinburgh Castle, at No 16 with 1,778,548 visits.

Melrose Abbey, run by Historic Environment Scotland, was founded in 1136 by Cistercian monks at the request of King David I of Scotland.

Conservative regional list MSP Rachael Hamilton welcomed the boost making the top 200 has given to the abbey, saying: “This is a fantastic performance for the Scottish Borders, with Melrose Abbey proving once again that the Borders is a great place to visit.

“The Scottish Government needs to support tourism, and that means doing more to address the damaging issue of business rate hikes that will only drive up costs, and thus prices will go up for visitors as a consequence.

“We must also see tourist attractions in rural locations supported.

“Focus on rural visitor attractions is just as important as city visitor attractions. Indeed, in many cases, these attractions in rural areas are crucial to local rural economies.”

Labour list MSP Colin Smyth added: “This report highlights two clear issues about tourism in Scotland, the first being that local attractions can and have shown to be a hugely important part of the offer to attract tourists to Scotland and secondly, if promoted as well as attractions in the big cities, they could become even more significant pillars of the local economy.

“The report shows that local attractions in the south of Scotland are punching above their weight and able to compete with some of the big attractions despite clearly having fewer resources.”

“I welcome these figures as they show the work done by the local councils and VisitScotland is making a difference, but we cannot be complacent.

“More needs to be done to ensure that visitors look to the south as often as they look to the Highlands and Islands or big cities when they are visiting Scotland.

“We clearly have a positive range of good visitor attractions. We just need to fully market them.”

Tourism in Scotland was up 15.6% last year, more than twice the 7.2% UK average, according to a report accompanying the new figures.