SThe award-winning hit TV series Outlander will officially be returning for not just one, but two more series at least. Following weeks of rumour and speculation, Sony Pictures Television confirmed that the show has been signed on for series five and six, with filming having already begun in South Carolina.
It seems that after several years of the American-produced series being set and shot within the Scottish Highlands, it will now be departing from its origins for good. The story has moved firmly to the New World, with the last series chronicling the everyday struggles and adventures of Claire and Jamie as they attempt to adjust to a new life on a Carolina plantation.
While clues on what to expect from season five are pretty thin on the ground at the moment, there is little reason to expect that the show will be returning to Scotland any time soon. The season will be based largely on the fifth book of the original Outlander novel series, The Fiery Cross, which takes place during the years running up to the American Revolution, where our Scottish protagonists are forced to pick a side in one of history’s most consequential historical events.
Since we can no longer expect any sweeping camera shots of the rugged highlands and the Isle of Skye, now is a good time to look back. The scenery and the fascinating (if not entirely accurate) depictions of Scottish culture were regularly singled out for praise in the first three seasons.
Many also predicted that the show would fuel a tourism boom to Scotland and spark a renewal of Scottish culture and exports around the world, but has this actually happened? What has been the impact of Outlander on Scotland’s economic fortunes? Let’s try and find out.
The “Outlander Effect”
One group that certainly seems to think the show has been good for Scotland is VisitScotland, the official tourism board for the country. In March 2019, the organisation invited the US author of the original novels Diana Gabaldon over to present her with an award for an “outstanding international contribution to Scottish tourism“, an accolade that has only been given out a handful of times.
In a press release prior to the award ceremony, VisitScotland used cold, hard data that they presented as proof that the series had boosted both tourism figures and the overall economy of the Highlands and Scotland as a whole.
The “Outlander Effect and Tourism“ paper claims that sites across Scotland received an average jump in visitors of 67% after appearing on the show, with certain areas such as Doune Castle near Dunblane and Glasgow Cathedral seeing increases of more than 200%. This, in all, represents millions of pounds for the Scottish economy at a time when tourism is representing an increasingly significant chunk of national GDP and growth.
VisitScotland has claimed that Outlander has had a phenomenal impact on the economy and international reputation of Scotland, more so than any other media in recent years.
But how much of Scotland’s recent successes can really be chalked up to a TV show, with ratings that hardly ever average more than 1 million viewers per episode? It’s a fact that the Scottish economy and tourism are booming like never before, but there are countless other, more powerful factors at play that are concurrent to the popularity of Outlander.
One key factor is Scotland’s renaissance as a global financial centre, which has arguably done more to boost the economy and visitor numbers than any TV show. Edinburgh, with Glasgow now close behind, has become one of the leading financial centres in Europe in recent years and a major hub for billions of pounds worth of currency exchange. The UK foreign exchange (forex) is one of the most valuable and dynamic in Europe, a development that only really got underway in the past few years – just when the supposed Outlander effect is supposed to have fuelled tourism to the island and to Scotland in particular.
Meanwhile, the impact of other factors and even other TV shows have arguably been more powerful than Outlander. The 2012 film Prometheus was itself credited with fuelling an unprecedented boom in tourism to the Isle of Skye, to the point where the small island can literally no longer hold any more tourists.
Meanwhile, the BBC television series Shetland has proved to be a massive hit on the other side of the Atlantic, with numerous outlets crediting it for fuelling a tourism boom both within the islands and across the whole of Scotland.
Another key factor that is often overlooked is the post-2016 decline in the value of the British Pound (GBP), caused by the EU referendum result. A cheaper pound means cheaper holidays for foreign visitors, which has helped push up tourism to the UK to record heights.
So yes, there may have been a little too much credit given to the producers of Outlander, not least from the Scottish tourism board. With production moving to America for the foreseeable future, it seems like the Outlander effect – no matter how small – may be gone for good.