Why Scottish tourism recovery seems a distant dream - Stephen Jardine

We have a date. Wednesday 15 July is the day tourism and hospitality businesses in Scotland reopen if Covid-19 infection rates continue to decline. For the 200,000 people working in hospitality, the announcement was welcome, long-awaited news. When businesses reopen it will be nearly four months since they closed their doors. Right now, we should be in peak holiday mode. Instead we are just 11 days from midsummer and after that, the nights start drawing in.
The Scottish tourism industry has some natural assets that should aid its recoveryThe Scottish tourism industry has some natural assets that should aid its recovery
The Scottish tourism industry has some natural assets that should aid its recovery

The reopening date provides something for the sector to work towards but it is by no means the end of this nightmare. Opening the doors is one thing, but who is going to walk through them? Making lockdown work required engendering a fear factor that worked well but will prove hard to shift. Our streets are still quiet. Home feels like the safest place to be.

With quarantine for arriving air passengers just introduced with no end in sight, it’s clear the only tourism we are going to see is of the domestic variety. But will we really want a staycation when the pandemic is still claiming lives and millions remain on furlough, their jobs hanging in the balance?

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Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing acknowledged that obstacle this week by announcing a Scottish Recovery Tourism Taskforce to oversee a domestic visitor marketing campaign. Its aim will be to persuade us that if you love Scotland, the best thing you can do is holiday here and spend some money.

But first we need to get places. CalMac sails to 30 Scottish islands but 2 metre social distancing means most ferries can only run at 20 per cent capacity. Businesses on Arran warn this could “imperil” the island’s economy and want a ban on day trippers, inititally with space reserved for visitors spending money on multiple night stays.

It’s clear there is one huge obstacle to Scottish tourism and hospitality recovering. This week I told a top Scottish chef about the reopening date. His response: “Why bother, with 2m social distancing?” Like many, he can’t see a way of making money based on the reduced capacity required by that measure. What’s the point of opening a business if it cannot trade profitably?

There is growing pressure to amend the 2m rule before it becomes enshrined in our everyday life as the economy unlocks. The WHO recommends one metre distancing and countries like France follow that advice, while others like Germany and Italy prefer 1.5m, leaving only Canada, Spain and us choosing the biggest margin. Every metre provides greater protection, but also greater strain on the economy. The ultimate decision lies with the Prime Minister but adequate testing and the use of face coverings should make it easier for him to reduce the distance. At 1m consumers have a choice. At 2m many businesses have no chance.

If that happens, another problem remains. Tourists heading to rural Scotland need to be sensitive to locals who have been in lockdown for three months and fear the arrival of incomers. They are right to have concerns, but without tourism some areas have little but a view. Lockdown may be easing but it isn’t easy.



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