Scotland’s fortunes are intrinsically linked to its tourist trade. Visitors pouring in to snap away at the nation’s mountains, lochs and castles generate billions in revenues and support tens of thousands of jobs.
With the summer season now well into its stride, holiday hotspots are buzzing and hoteliers, restaurant operators and store owners will be praying for a bumper few weeks.
Having just returned from a fortnight touring the Orkney Isles, that feel-good factor would appear to extend to the outer reaches. Indeed, securing accommodation proved an unexpected challenge in some places.
In so many regards, Scotland can lay claim to being a 21st-century tourist destination. The choices of where to stay and dine are vastly improved on just a few decades ago. Transport links by air, sea, road and rail are, by and large, more dependable and there are only a few spots left that will deprive you of a usable mobile internet or wi-fi connection.
Unfortunately, against this backdrop of progress and optimism, there is one area where too many businesses still come unstuck.
You might assume that the highly restrictive opening hours and serving curfews prevalent up to the early 1970s disappeared with flares and the flying picket. Not so.
At one hotel on my multi-island jaunt, evening meals were offered only between 5pm and 8.30pm, despite it being the weekend and the only place to eat for some distance. A couple who turned up just five minutes after the cut-off were rather bluntly informed the kitchen had closed for the night and were offered the unappealing alternative of nuts or crisps from the adjoining bar.
It’s a frustrating situation others are sure to have encountered, and a phenomenon that isn’t restricted to the more remote communities.
Indeed, the question of opening hours across swathes of the “service” sector needs addressing. Visitors from the continent, well used to shopping late into the evening, must be perplexed when high street stores roll down the shutters at 5.30pm.
Of course, not that long ago we were also faced with mid-week, half-day closing and a total Sunday shutdown. Thankfully, a more liberal approach to opening times has allowed many consumers to dovetail their shopping trips with their working week.
The “open all hours” approach, portrayed in the classic Ronnie Barker television series, may not suit all businesses. Staff need their own down-time too and employers must be careful not to exploit or bully workers into working long hours.
Yet in this day and age, and faced with the onslaught of 24/7 online transacting, surely a rethink is necessary for bigger retailers, in particular. Extended-hours shopping works. You only have to witness the hustle and bustle on Edinburgh’s Princes Street every Thursday evening to appreciate that.
So why stop at one night a week? Providing there is staff capacity, then 8pm, 9pm, even 10pm could become the norm. This could be offset by opening for business that little bit later in the mornings. Who needs to buy a pair of jeans at 9am anyway?
And really, can there be any excuse to close a kitchen at such an early hour.