SCOTTISH tourism leaders have issued a stark warning that the lucrative industry is facing its toughest period since the start of the economic downturn.
Dwindling consumer spending, the soaring cost of travelling to the UK from overseas and prolonged bad weather is said to be badly hampering businesses and operators.
Visitscotland chiefs said high air passenger duty charges were deterring many overseas visitors while they had recently asked the banking sector to be more supportive of the tourism industry.
Tourism figures were actually up three per cent year-on-year, according to the most recent study, although business was badly affected last summer, with competition from the Olympics and prolonged bad weather said to have hit the lucrative UK market.
VisitScotland chairman Mike Cantlay said: “It is a very tough environment out there at the moment.
“The bookings business is proving hard work for everyone. It is competitive and aggressive.
“We are chasing the same leisure pound across the UK, which is our core selling market, which is very hard to secure and much harder than a year ago.
“The last 12 months have been as tough for the industry as any time in the last five years.
“The news on the economy just continues to be very bleak.
“I only have to look at the number of empty shops in my home town of Callander. You see that in every tourism town and every high street.”
Mr Cantlay said he was “extremely fearful” of the long-term impact of air passenger duty levies on the long haul market to Scotland, which had left the country at a competitive disadvantage with the likes of Ireland.
He added: “To say to a potential visitor to Scotland from Australia, for example, that before you even book you will be paying hundreds of pounds extra for the sake of coming here because the UK has a deficit to fund is not an easy sell. It is lunacy for our industry.”
The tourism industry in Scotland is the nation’s biggest single employer, supporting around 270,000 jobs and is worth around £11 billion to the economy.