Boasting a wealth of top visitor attractions, Falkirk has become a ‘destination of choice’ in recent times with tourist numbers expected to soar even higher in 2019 and beyond.
That is the prediction of Neil Christison, VisitScotland’s new regional director for Falkirk, Clackmannanshire, Stirling, East Lothian, West Lothian and Midlothian.
“Looking back at the last year, Falkirk has a great deal to be proud of,” he said.
“From a quality point of view it now has not one but three five-star attractions – Xtreme Karting Falkirk, based in Larbert, the Kelpies/Helix Park and now Callendar House, which achieved its accreditation in July.
“The Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies are international attractions with both getting well over half a million visitors a year so Falkirk is really going from strength to strength as a destination of choice and this is something we are keen to build on, especially at a time when visitor numbers to Scotland are also at an all time high.”
Tourism generates more than £110 million of economic impact in Falkirk and employs nearly 2000 workers across the region.
Last year alone a record 3.2 million international tourists, 151 million day visitors and 11.7 million overnight tourists travelled to the region.
“Each of these statistics is higher than previous years which shows tourism is growing, particularly from an international market perspective,” Mr Christison explained.
There can be little doubt that the current weakness of the pound compared to the Euro and the dollar has helped Scotland appeal to many as a ‘value for money’ destination, however credit must also be given to the film and TV industry.
“We know that around 40 per cent of people come to Scotland after being inspired by something they’ve watched,” Mr Christison said.
“The worldwide succcess of Scottish productions like the blockbuster Outlaw King and Outlander has definitely played a huge part in attracting visitors from America and other countries. The new Mary Queen of Scots film is coming out soon too which is bound to be huge.
“Blackness Castle in particular has had a massive increase in footfall numbers as a result of being a popular filming location.
“Falkirk has seen growth like nowhere else in Scotland with a 50 per cent increase in visitor numbers over the last eight years as well as year on year growth. The region welcomed well over a million visitors last year and it’s not just visitor numbers that are on the increase, it’s visitor spend too and this in turn has a huge economic impact on employment opportunities in the area.”
Two Falkirk individuals in particular are flying the flag for the tourism employment in the area after winning Rising Star accolades at the Scottish Thistle Awards earlier this year in recognition for their passion for the tourism industry.
“Craig MacDonald (20) and Amy Paton (20) are inspiring role models for young people considering a career in tourism,” Mr Christison said.
Looking ahead to 2019 and beyond, Mr Christison said he hopes tourists heading to Glasgow and Edinburgh take the time to explore Falkirk too, given the train links to the area.
Plans include the development of more “experiential” itineraries for visitors to include areas of interest such as the John Muir Way and the Antonine Wall.
A marketing strategy is already underway for the John Muir Way, which stretches 134 miles across Scotland’s heartland, running through Falkirk and Linlithgow.
“It is a very significant piece of work and funding options are currently being investigated,” Mr Christison said.
“Marketing work will also be progressing further next year on the Antonine Wall which is very exciting to be part of.”
Another forthcoming project is the 110-acre site around the Falkirk Wheel where landowner Scottish Canals has drawn up a provisional masterplan.
“2020 is to be the Year of Scotland’s Coasts and Waters so there will be a lot of marketing ahead of that,” Mr Christison said.
“The Falkirk Distillery is also due to open its doors in 2019 which is sure to be gamechanging for the area and will attract a whole new audience so we definitely have a lot of tourism opportunities in the pipeline for 2019 which is fantastic.
“Finally, another key theme we are working on is to make sure Falkirk is accessibile for all.
“Only 8% of disabilities are visible so we want to ensure we are able to adequately cater for everyone so we will definitely be doing more in the way of inclusive tourism in 2019.”