They came from Down Under and from tiny sun-kissed tropical islands, far-flung territories and baking hot African nations to see dancing Tunnocks Tea Cakes and two men kiss.
Glasgow’s colourful and kitsch opening ceremony for the 2104 Commonwealth Games five years ago this week kick-started 12 blistering hot days of sport and left its mark on a global audience who saw the city at its vibrant and colourful best.
Now the huge sporting event – which brought around 690,000 visitors to Scotland as a direct result of the Games – has been voted the greatest moment in Scottish tourism.
A poll created by tourism agency VisitScotland to mark its 50th anniversary today, has placed the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games as the biggest catalyst for bringing visitors to Scotland.
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The Games, which saw 4950 athletes from 71 different nations and territories competing across 18 different sports, bagged 20 per cent of the votes and topped a string of events regarded as having a dramatic impact on tourist numbers.
Included in the top five most important moments is the decision by Rough Guide readers to name Scotland as the most beautiful country in the world.
Scotland polled ahead of Canada and New Zealand in second and third places respectively, with lashings of praise for its “wild beaches, deep lochs and craggy castles” and recommendation to tourists to visit Edinburgh’s Old Town, Stirling Castle, Glen Coe and the beaches of South Harris.
The Rough Guide listing – at a time when the exchange rate was already encouraging increasing numbers of American visitors – prompted tourism leaders at the time to predict an influx of extra tourists.
The poll also highlights Scotland’s leading role in blockbuster cinema and television dramas as helping to boost visitor numbers.
The release of Braveheart in 1995 was voted third most impactful event, taking 11% of the vote. The Mel Gibson epic sparked a surge in interest in Scotland and its history leading to a boost in visitor numbers for the National Wallace Monument in Stirling – leaping from 30,000 a year to nearly 200,000 in 1996.
The hugely popular Outlander book and later TV series are also regarded as key moments, along with the 2012 Disney animation, Brave, which featured the voices of Billy Connolly, Robbie Coltrane and Kelly Macdonald.
Large events which brought tourists flooding to Glasgow in particular also made the top 20, including the 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival and Glasgow’s role as the City of Culture.
Perhaps surprisingly, the top 20 of key moments does not include the opening of the Skye Bridge in 1995, spanning Loch Alsh and connecting Kyle of Lochalsh with the island.
The toll-free bridge is widely regarded as being key to the island’s current tourism boom.
However, it does include the launch of the Scottish Tourist Board in July 1969 – voted fourth most significant event for Scotland’s tourism sector.
And while 2014’s high-profile and sometimes controversial Year of Homecoming polled 2% of the votes, there appears less enthusiasm for other heavily marketed ‘theme years’ – such as the 2012 Year of Creative Scotland or last year’s Year of Young People.
The introduction of themed years to Scotland’s tourism landscape earned no votes at all.
Some people taking part in the survey had their own ideas of what attracts people to Scotland.
Among their suggestions was Andy Murray’s Wimbledon win, the mere fact that Billy Connolly was born here, Nessie Sightings and, perhaps for the more niche tourist, “Hibs winning the Scottish FA Cup after 114 years.”
Meanwhile, opinions on what constitutes the most momentous event differed across regions, with the Rough Guide status coming top among people in east central Scotland and the Highlands and Islands, while Braveheart took the honours in Aberdeen.
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Other key moments included the launch of the North Coast 500 route in 2015 and the age of low-cost air travel, particularly the introduction of Easyjet’s Luton to Glasgow flights.
However, it was the colourful and thrilling spectacle of the 2014 Glasgow games which appears to have had most impact on showcasing the nation as a friendly and welcoming tourist destination.
Scotland fielded its largest ever team at the 2014 Games and won a record 53 medals in the process.
Key moments included a rain-soaked final night of athletics which saw Usain Bolt dancing to sound of The Proclaimers and then joining fellow Jamaican runners in hats and scarfs as they celebrated their 4×100 metres relay celebrations, the Queen captured ‘photobombing’ an Australian hockey players selfie, Motherwell boxing mailman Charlie Flynn’s biggest ever delivery – a gold medal – and a string of Scottish athletics’ victories.
Councillor David McDonald, Depute Leader of Glasgow City Council and Chair of Glasgow Life, said the Games had helped boost sport in the city: “Our city has made some huge improvements in recent years which have created a real legacy from the Games.
“We’re also set to host some spectacular events in the near future which would not have been possible had Glasgow not hosted and expertly delivered the 2014 Commonwealth Games.”
Malcolm Roughead, Chief Executive of VisitScotland, said: “Over the last 50 years there have been so many big moments for Scotland’s tourism industry that it is difficult to choose just one, but the public has spoken.
“The Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games marked a momentous time for Scotland as we showed the world that we can host the biggest events on the planet and a global spotlight was shone on our country for visitors.
“All of these moments and more have helped Scotland to become a tourism giant over five decades and while this is VisitScotland’s own milestone, it’s very much an anniversary to be shared with our industry colleagues and partners.
“Today’s success owes much to the vision of pioneers within this resilient and resourceful industry and our 50th allows us to look fondly at the past while, importantly, fixing our gaze toward the future.”