Skye braces itself for holiday season as staffing crisis hits island
The impact of Brexit and those leaving the industry due to the risks posed by the pandemic have left gaps in staff numbers as the holiday season gets underway, with a lack of affordable housing for workers also adding pressure.
It comes as businesses gear up for the first summer free of coronavirus restrictions, although the new pressure of fuel prices is anticipated to impact on the season, said Simon Cousins, a spokesan for Skye Connect, an organisation which develops the island tourism economy.
Mr Cousins said: “The irony is that, for those businesses that are busy, some are not able to offer the same level of service in the past. That is because there is a real staffing issue on SKye. It is an issue facing industry across Scotland, but we know the Skye tourism industry is particularly hard hit.
“We have got business who would normally offer seven nights service during prime season who are now offering four or five so they can give existing staff enough time off.
“Those businesses who are trying to keep going with full service are getting staff with health issues. I know of one hotel where a senior manager was doing everything from morning breakfast, to housekeeping to doing the bar in the evening. He just got burn out and is now signed off. And it is only June.
"We have a situation where we have a housing crisis, a staffing crisis and a post-pandemic recovery. It’s just really, really tough for our businesses.”
Mr Cousins said a figure of unfilled jobs on the island was due to be published next month.
Nationwide, the Scottish Tourism Alliance said that there were 230,000 tourism jobs in Scotland, which were either part-time, full-time or in the direct supply chain.
As of May 23, the vacancy rate was 20 per cent – or the equivalent of 45,000 jobs.
Social media campaigns have recently been launched on Skye to attract people to the island hospitality industry.
Mr Cousins said that summer visitor numbers will become clearer next week when school holidays are fully underway, although at the moment it felt quieter than pre-pandemic years.
"All we want to do is deliver a service that visitors can expect. The last thing we want if for visitor to come and say ‘Skye was lovely, but we couldn't get a meal,” he added.
Skye has experienced soaring visitor numbers in recent years with attractions such as the Fairy Pools, the Quairaing and the Old Man of Storr – and the surrounding communities – overwhelmed by visitors.
The Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland has been working with residents to protect and conserve the big sites.
Footpaths have been repaired at the Quairaing; a new car park, toilets and footbridges are now open at the Fairy Pools with work underway to restore plants and wildflower habitats at the Old Man of Storr, which have been damaged by increased numbers of walkers.
The landmark has experienced a rise in visitors from around 20,000 a decade ago to around 200,000 a year, said Murray Swapp, access projects manager for the trust.
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