Scotland has become an unexpected holiday hotspot for visitors from the UAE who are flocking to the country in record numbers. More than 27,000 travelled to the country from the Emirates last year, up 28.5 per cent on the average in previous years, according to statistics from the tourist board VisitScotland.
One of the key growth areas for Scottish tourism has been golf, which entices Middle Eastern visitors wishing to play on some of the world's oldest and most prestigious courses. The UAE has 8,000 registered golfers but only 14 golf courses - and some of the highest course fees in the world, according to a report from KPMG. Scotland, by contrast, has more than 500 courses. Kaleem Akbar, of the tour operator Golf Evolution Scotland, said Emirati visitors enjoyed the variety of Scotland. "They like to rent their own cars and travel around the country - the big thing is the fact that they could be in the wilderness one minute and in a major city the next."
Visitors from the Emirates brought in more than £21 million (Dh122.6m) for Scotland last year, with many taking their families to shop on Edinburgh's Princes Street or along the Style Mile, Glasgow's major shopping thoroughfare. Nada Serhan, a projects co-ordinator for the British Council in Qatar, said she was receiving increasing inquiries about Scotland from residents of the UAE and other Gulf countries. "I think they're used to London and want to see something new but still stay in the UK because it's familiar to them."
She added that the influx of expatriates to the UAE and Bahrain had piqued the curiosity of the Gulf countries' nationals. "There are quite a few Scottish people here - I think when they [Middle Eastern-born people] mingle with those people they want to learn more." Last year, the UK received 29.9 million visitors, according to the International Passenger Survey. Of all annual visitors to the UK, an average of about 10 to 15 per cent visit Scotland.
Scotland proved resistant to the worst of the recession, however, with total visits rising slightly last year. Edinburgh, Scotland's capital, saw the majority of growth in UK tourism last year, with a rise of 133,000 tourists compared with 2008. One of the major Scottish tourist draws is the annual Edinburgh Festival, the UK's premier stage festival, which is taking place throughout this month. Its world famous Fringe event was the inspiration for the Dubai Fringe Festival, which took place earlier this year.