Robert Burns in the Scottish Economy: A Groundbreaking study, funded by the Scottish Government

Robert Burns and the Scottish Economy is a groundbreaking study led by Professor Murray Pittock for the University of Glasgow, with the support of Dr Joel Ambroisine. The project was commissioned by the Scottish Government following a Member’s debate initiated by Joan McAlpine MSP on 17 January 2018, S5M-09328, The Economic Potential of Robert Burns.Economic Impact Assessments of individual writers and cultural figures are a rarity, and it is believed that this study is currently unique in its scope and ambition in the global cultural tourism market. The project has already submitted an interim report to the Scottish Government, and a final one is due by September 2019.

An estimated 9.5 million people attend Burns Suppers worldwide every year, and the poet himself is an important component of Scotland’s national brand. An earlier outline study done for the BBC in 2003 indicated that Burns was worth £157M to Scotland. Since then his brand has been significantly enhanced by an increasing global profile and enhanced visitor facilities, as well as a growing number of Burns-related festivals and produce, including the poet’s central role in Scotland’s Winter Festivals. The market for Scottish produce has substantially expanded in the past fifteen years, to an extent that outpaces the rest of the UK. Tourism and food and drink are two of the three largest industries in Scotland, which in their turn reflect a highly visible national Scottish brand in the global marketplace, a brand which owes an enormous debt to Scotland’s 18th and 19th century history and culture.  This study was advanced on the basis that Scotland needs to understand the relationship between its culture and economy more fully in order to maximise its leading international position. Cultural tourism in particular is highly beneficial to the economy, as the evidence suggests that this group of visitors engages more fully and stays longer in a given area. Within the UK, culture tourism in Scotland attracts more visitors than anywhere outside London. Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway is second only to Shakespeare among UK writers’ museums in its visitor numbers.

Robert Burns and the Scottish Economy is examining the economic impact of Burns-related tourism, food, drink and retail sales, education, the economic effect of festivals and the economic capital and ‘psychic income’ deriving from the benefits of improved cultural tourism infrastructure. In addition, the project will explore the possibility of giving a global value to Burns the brand given that many people worldwide encounter a distinctive Scottish culture through Burns-related events, and will also evaluate the relevance of Burns to the Regional Inclusive Growth agenda, particularly in the Ayrshires and the south of Scotland. Burns has been seen as the no. 1 reason that people visit Ayrshire, and four of the houses he stayed in the Dumfries area are still standing. The project is working with the South of Scotland Economic Partnership (SoSEP), the emerging Ayrshire Regional Partnership and local businesses such as FreshAyr to both measure and maximize the economic impact of Burns in regional terms.