Staff shortages keep Scottish visitor attractions closed as summer season opens

Scotland’s visitor attractions are struggling to recruit staff following the pandemic, with a number of key destinations yet to open this summer.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) says staffing issues are posing problems for a number of its properties, with 15 sites yet to open as a direct result of issues linked to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the Association of Scotland’s Visitor Attractions has launched a recruitment drive to highlight the virtues of working in the industry after research, carried out last month, found 55 per cent of 850 attractions in Scotland were experiencing challenges in recruitment.

HES properties yet to open post-pandemic include Dunkeld Cathedral, Kilmartin Crosses in Argyll, Balvenie Castle in Moray, Tolquhon Castle in Aberdeenshire, and Kisimul Castle on Barra.

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A spokewoman for HES said staff normally employed in seasonal roles had found work in other fields following lockdown.

She said: “While 80 per cent of our attractions are now open to visitors, we still face challenges in reopening our seasonal sites, with one of the biggest factors being the availability of staff, with many former seasonal colleagues now employed, post pandemic, in other fields.

Dunkeld Cathedral is one of the properties owned by Historic Environment Scotland that has yet to re-open following the pandemic. PIC: James Denam/CC

"This is having a detrimental effect in terms of impacting on our wider sector, highlighted recently by the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA) who have launched a recruitment campaign to attract people back into the sector.”

HES said it was hoped the 15 properties still closed due to Covid would open on a rolling basis over the summer.

Other factors were also at play in the delayed re-opening of some properties following lockdown, such as the need for electrical checks, drain flushing and condition inspections. Expertise of tradespeople may be required, which can further impact timetables, the spokeswoman added.

Earlier this month, the Scottish Government announced funding for HES was being cut by £13 million over the next four years, from £61m to £48m in 2026/27, as part of a public services finance review.

Meanwhile, an additional 50 historic sites cared for by HES remain closed off to the public while emergency surveys are carried out to assess the state and safety of the structures, with climate change aiding their deterioration.

Lochleven, Aberdour, Tantallon and St Andrews castles, Linlithgow Palace and Melrose Abbey are among those affected.

National Trust for Scotland (NTS) said three of its properties remained closed. House of the Binns in Linlithgow is closed for refurbishment – although the grounds remain open – while Arduaine Garden near Oban is closed due to storm damage clear-up and Souter Johnnie’s Cottage in Ayrshire is shut due to staffing issues.

NTS said it supported the ASVA recruitment campaign and claimed it recently had “great results” in recruiting new staff.

ASVA said the visitor attraction sector offered around 17,000 jobs, with a common misconception held that working in tourism “was a job, not a career”.

The association, which has produced a campaign video to illustrate the opportunities afforded by the sector, is now working with the Department for Work and Pensions, universities and colleges to highlight career opportunities.

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