Image: Connery calls Scots home
Actor Sean Connery is seen in an ad, part of a “Homecoming” campaign designed to encourage expatriate Scots around the world to head home and visit for vacations. The campaign comes on the 250th anniversary of the birth of the Scottish poet Robert Burns.
updated 1/23/2009 11:34:10 AM ET 2009-01-23T16:34:10

Scottish poet Robert Burns gave the English-speaking world some of its most famous sayings and sentiments, including the New Year's favorite “Auld Lang Syne” and the rhapsody, “my love is like a red, red rose.”

Now on the 250th anniversary of his birth, the Scottish government hopes worldwide interest in the poet will create a boom in the tourist trade.

The anniversary on Sunday, celebrated by Scots around the world as Burns Night, will be marked by the usual Burns Suppers, feasts at which devotees consume Scotch whisky and haggis — a delicacy made of oats and offal wrapped in a sheep's stomach — and toast the life and works of Scotland's bard.

The Royal Mail is issuing a set of three stamps to mark the birthday — two carrying an image of the poet, the third with another of his famous sayings: “A man's a man for a' that.” The Royal Mint is producing a limited-edition gold coin, selling for 475 pounds ($650), as well as an ordinary 2 pound ($3) coin inscribed with Burns' words “We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet, for auld lang syne” — for old times' sake. The stamps and coins were this week presented to two of Britain's most illustrious Scots — Prime Minister Gordon Brown and treasury chief Alistair Darling.

The anniversary also marks the start of Homecoming Scotland 2009, a campaign the tourism industry hopes will attract tourists with Scottish roots from around the world, as well as those who are just curious, back to the old country with a series of 300 events including a huge gathering of the clans in Edinburgh in July.

The tourist industry hopes the 5 million-pound ($7 million) campaign will draw an extra 100,000 visitors who could spend up to 40 million pounds ($56 million) in 2009.

Burns' political radicalism, romantic verse and use of Scots' dialect have made him a heroic figure to many Scottish people, especially to nationalists like the Scottish National Party, which governs in Edinburgh.

“Burns is the inspiration behind our yearlong celebration of some of Scotland's great contributions to the world: golf, whisky, great minds and innovations, our rich culture, wonderful heritage and of course, Robert Burns himself,” said Scottish tourism minister Jim Mather.

But critics accuse tourism chiefs of preaching to the converted. They point out that a sentimental television commercial starring former James Bond actor Sean Connery, pop star Sandie Thom and triple Olympic gold-winning cyclist Chris Hoy singing the ballad “Caledonia” has, so far, only been shown on Scottish networks.

Slideshow: European escapes “Not enough attention has been paid to North America or Australia. There is a great opportunity here to attract the descendants of Scots from around the world but they have not put enough money into the marketing, it has been disappointing,” said Lewis Macdonald, the Labour Party's tourism and culture spokesman in the Scottish Parliament.

Supporters of the Homecoming campaign say critics underestimate the enthusiasm of Scots around the world.

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Tourism body VisitScotland says around 16 million tourists come to Scotland each year, most from other parts of Britain but a fifth from overseas. The number includes 350,000 American visitors.

“The Scots around the world are passionate about their roots and origins,” said Roddy Martine, author of the book “Scottish Clan and Family Names.”

“I've found that the further away you are, the more you care. Often the diaspora is much more caring and enthusiastic of Scotland than those of us left behind.

“A lot of what is said about the clans now is romantic nonsense, but the trick is not to take it too seriously, and I think the clan gathering in July is going to be a very special event,” Martine said.

The global Scottish diaspora dwarfs Scotland's population of just over 5 million. More than 4.8 million Americans reported Scottish ancestry in the 2000 census, and more than 4 million Canadians also claim Scottish roots.

Look in any phone book from North America to Australia and it will be packed with Scottish names. From Charleston, South Carolina, to Adelaide, Australia, and Kingston, Jamaica, surnames such as Ross, Campbell and Mcdonald are common.

Barack Obama joins a long list of U.S. Presidents, including Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson, who can lay claim to Scottish roots.

According to Gary Boyd Roberts, a senior research scholar at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, Obama's ancestors include William the Lion, who ruled Scotland between 1165 and 1214. His maternal ancestor, Edward FitzRandolph, emigrated to America in the 17th century.

VisitScotland spokeswoman Barbara Clark said the TV commercial will be shown in the U.S. in February. She said the marketing campaign had been running in 40 countries since 2007 with efforts concentrated in North America, Australasia and Europe. It is also available on YouTube.

“With the U.S. dollar strong against the pound compared to the last 10 years or so, I think coming here is now an attractive prospect, even though times are tough,” she said.

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