Scots tourism sector '˜gazing over a cliff' warns expert

Scotland's tourism industry is 'gazing over a cliff', an expert has warned, with an 'acute' shortage of migrant workers just one of the problems the sector is facing.
Edinburgh Castle is the most popular tourist destination in Scotland. Picture: Ian GeorgesonEdinburgh Castle is the most popular tourist destination in Scotland. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Edinburgh Castle is the most popular tourist destination in Scotland. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Professor John Lennon, director of the Moffat centre for travel and tourism business development at Glasgow Caledonian University, said rising food price inflation could force many operators to increase charges.

Such a move could hit business from so-called “staycationers”, with many across the UK seeing their budgets squeezed as a result of low wage growth and increases in the cost of living.

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As a result, Prof Lennon warned of more businesses in the tourism sector “going to the wall” in the coming months. He said the tourism industry had been “performing incredibly well”, partly as a result of the drop in the pound post-Brexit making the industry more competitive.

He said: “Tourism in Scotland, and indeed across the UK, has made gains from the big decline in the value of sterling against major currencies.

“The UK is far more affordable to many tourists from key international markets than it was before the Brexit vote.”

Despite this, the expert added: “My strong impression is that the Scottish industry is gazing over a cliff.”

In an article on The Conversation website, which highlights work by the academic and research community, he stated: “Scotland, like the UK as a whole, is a net importer of foods.

“Hoteliers and food and beverage operators are going to have to move their prices up because their margins are going to be attacked.

“Talk to anyone in the hospitality world at the moment and they will tell you about food price inflation already well in excess of the 4 per cent to 5 per cent reported.

“The time has to be coming when tourists will find the pound in their pocket going less far.

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“Many international visitors will be able to take the price hike. Many domestic tourists will not because they are being squeezed in two ways: low wage growth and gathering inflation at the same time.

“What does this mean? As we move through January, February, March, expect to see more liquidations in the tourism industry; more businesses going to the wall, particularly the highly leveraged ones.”

He added: “Another issue is labour: Scottish tourism and hospitality relies on a supply of migrant workers and the country is already bleeding EU nationals.

“The availability of labour working in the sector is becoming acute and will continue into 2018.”

To help tackle the problems the industry is facing, he suggested Scotland’s two largest cities work together to try to spread the benefits from tourism across the central belt.

Tourism secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “It is imperative Scotland stays in the single market and continues to benefit from the free movement of persons, enabling businesses to recruit and retain the staff which will stimulate economic growth.”

The Moffat centre is the UK’s largest university-based consultancy and research centre for tourism and travel market research and business development.