With the cost of living crisis continuing in a post pandemic Scotland, Ayrshire's tourism industry should be facing a bleak 2024.

But that could be far from the case, according to VisitScotland regional director Lynsey Eckford, who this week revealed interest in Ayrshire among overseas visitors is back on the rise.

The growth in food and drink tourism has boosted Ayrshire already, and with major events such as the Open golf tournament returning to Troon next year, there's more than a little hope about what the future might bring.

Lynsey said: “While the struggles of Scottish tourism post-pandemic have been well documented, interest in Scotland has remained incredibly strong. People do still want to travel in whatever way they can and Scotland is very much still on their travel wish lists.   

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: VisitScotland's Lynsey EckfordVisitScotland's Lynsey Eckford (Image: VisitScotland)

"The strong recovery of international visitors is one of 2023’s success stories. Many of our key overseas markets have now almost equalled, and in some cases surpassed, 2019 levels.

"Overseas holidaymakers tend to stay longer and spend more. They are increasingly becoming a key part of the visitor economy.

“Tourism in Ayrshire and Arran is a 365-day-a-year industry and a vital sector for generating hundreds of millions for the local economy.

"In fact, in a survey of Scottish residents it was named as the most important industry. It sustains communities, creates jobs and attracts investment – building and growing towns, our countryside and our islands."

She added: "VisitScotland is steadfast in our support of local tourism, and so for us, our focus is using marketing, partnership work and business support activities to promote Ayrshire & Arran as a year-round destination.

"Inspiring and influencing visitors at those crucial early planning stages, using the channels we know they use.   

“Influencer Ruby Granger visited Arran and the content was used on her Instagram reel and YouTube channel this autumn.

"The activity was part of the Spirit Of The Highlands & Islands marketing campaign, led by High Life Highland and Highland Council.

"Targeting audiences in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands this autumn and winter, the campaign is specifically designed to encouraging visitors to come during the shoulder season, outside of the traditional summer holiday period. 

"Of course, our job is made easier thanks to Ayrshire & Arran’s sterling tourism offering and the dedicated and passionate people behind it.

"It was great to see some of those leading lights recognised at the the West of Scotland Thistle Awards. Lamlash House in Newmilns, East Ayrshire was named Best Eating Experience.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: Arran's AuchrannieArran's Auchrannie (Image: Auchrannie)

"Best Bar or Pub sponsored by the Scottish Licensed Trade Association went to The Brae, Dreghorn, North Ayrshire, while Auchrannie Resort on Arran was named Best Hotel Experience, sponsored by Fishers. 

"Finally, Jack’s Alt-Stays in Millport, the Isle of Cumbrae, received the Best Self Catering Accommodation Experience award. "

“We aim to build on this global interest when our flagship travel trade show, VisitScotland Connect returns to P&J Live in Aberdeen 17-18 April 2024.

"Registration is open now for eligible businesses. Earlier this year, it was fantastic to have businesses representing Ayrshire join us and meet with tour operators and travel agents from across the world."   

 Lynsey added: “The return of international visitors is especially important while the domestic market adjusts to the cost-of-living challenges.

"Consumers are booking later or having to adjust their trip to suit their financial needs; saving money on shorter trips, booking different accommodation or forgoing eating out or visiting places. However, this is not a problem unique to Scotland. Domestic tourism across the entire UK is facing the same challenges.  

“Events like the The Arran Farmers Market at Bellevue Farm at Blackwaterfoot and right across our region in the run up to Christmas are a great way to support and celebrate local producers, enjoying that food and drink offering Ayrshire is known for. 

“As we go into next year The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere, Scotland’s first UNESCO Biosphere, is the only Scottish destination on National Geographic Traveller (UK) global Cool List for 2024.  

“With the very first Open Championship played on Prestwick Golf Club in 1860, it’s always a special occasion when the event returns to Ayrshire. Royal Troon’s Old Course will host its 10th Open in July 2024.   

“With these key dates and a busy cultural calendar, 2024 promises to be a big year for Ayrshire & Arran and we look forward to welcoming new and returning visitors throughout the year.”