IT rarely gets a mention when Scotland’s big tourists attractions such as whisky, history and scenery are being discussed.
But now new evidence is emerging of how the nation’s vibrant music scene of gigs, bands and festivals is powering an unprecedented tourist boom vital for the economy.
According to research, people coming to Scotland to take in a gig or festival contributed almost £300 million for the economy last year, with nearly a million visitors heading north in twelve months alone. It’s not just big overseas stars that attract tourists, but our own home-grown folk music too thanks to the success of acts like Shooglenifty, Julie Fowlis and Karine Polwart.
Now experts are hoping to tap into this important revenue stream with the establishment of the first ever Music Tourist summit in Glasgow, aimed at encouraging strategic cooperation between companies, artists, organisations and public bodies as they seek to harness the economic possibilities of Scotland’s music culture.
Olaf Furniss, the event’s founder, believes the time is right to start really pushing Scotland’s music scene as a key part of the tourism industry, and put it on a par with golf, whisky, castles and heritage as a visitor attraction.
He said: “The Beatles lived in Hamburg for two years and the city has been able to capitalize on this ever since. The potential for growth lies in music tours of all types, music cruises, creating awareness of Scotland’s musical heritage and making it easy for music tourists and those simply interested in music, being properly catered for with the necessary information.
“There is also a huge opportunity for the non-music attractions to connect to people who go to festivals. Hotels could also be looking to work more pro-actively with the entire music community, from artists to promoters. There is a lot of scope to offering packages for people going to gigs and festivals, while a touring network in partnership with hotels would be extremely helpful for emerging musicians.”
Behind the scenes, the power of music tourism to contribute to the economy is staggering. According to the annual report by trade body UK Music, 2015 saw more than 900,000 people visit Scotland to attend a gig or festival, more than a quarter of the total audiences for all musical events.
And the sums of money involved are huge, music tourists attending a single concert spend an average of £111, £72 million was spent by those attending festivals, and the sector itself is worth £295 million overall annually.
However, Furniss, a journalist and founder of Born To Be Wide, an organisation which hosts music business seminars, says that the UK Music report may actually be understating the importance of music tourism.
He said: “This figure for Scotland is based on live music tourists coming for a festival or concert. Although it is impressive in itself, it does not include growing niches such as people coming for music tuition, retreats, music tours or even record shops. A significant proportion of [the Edinburgh music store] Coda Music’s customers are visitors, so if they sell 500 copies of an emerging Scottish artists album, this is going to play a part in sustaining a musician.
“Add to this the fact that many people visit Scotland for other reasons but will want to go to a gig, take a music tour or go vinyl shopping, and one can safely assume that the figure of £295 million is quite conservative – given that VisitScotland is projecting golf tourism to reach £300m by the end of the decade.”
Scotland’s reputation as a home of music is known throughout the world, with music tourists travelling from all parts of the globe to see bands perform.
Aside from European visitors taking advantage of short-haul flights, promoters report music fans travelling from as far afield as Japan and South America for specific gigs.
And while it is the big venues such as Glasgow’s SSE Hydro which attract the big names – stars to perform there include Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Adele and Rod Stewart – the vast number of concerts and musical styles represented means that there is something to suit every taste.
Folk festivals in Shetland and Orkney, bespoke events such as Electric Fields at Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfriesshire and Belladrum Tartan Heart festival in Inverness jostle alongside T in the Park and Glasgow’s Celtic Connections – and just as every village in Spain seems to have its own Fiesta, almost every town in Scotland has music for fans. Overall, there were 772,000 concerts both big and small in 2015, and the industry now sustains more than 3200 jobs.
Furniss said: “Small to medium sized festivals have seen a steady rise over the past decade but often tend to go unnoticed as they don’t have the huge headliners. These are appealing for both locals and tourists, who very often travel within Scotland and use that as an opportunity for a holiday.
“Smaller events offer something exiting, different and often exotic, even for people travelling within Scotland. I went to the Heb Celt festival on Lewis in the summer and it was my first time in the Outer Hebridies, so I made a point of staying an extra day and doing some exploring.”