High prices hold back tourism in Scotland

I READ with interest Bill Jamieson’s insightful piece on the outlook for the Scottish tourism industry (Business, 14 July). There is little in Bill’s article with which I’d take issue other than, perhaps, to say that for many of our visitors weather is not a major factor in deciding to visit Scotland. However, a prolonged spell of our recent warmth and sunshine each year would do our tourism industry no harm.

We, in Britain and Scotland, must not take our tourism industry for granted. Analysis by the World Economic Forum shows that while Britain ranks highly overall as a visitor destination, the country lies 138th out of 139 in terms of price competitiveness – we are simply more expensive than most of our competitors, even with a weak pound.

Recent research undertaken by Oxford Economics for the British Hospitality Association shows, for Scotland, that the hospitality sector alone has a turnover of £8 billion, returns £4bn in gross value added and employs 220,000 people directly, with a further 120,000 indirectly through the supply chain. That research clearly illustrates the importance of hospitality and tourism to all areas of Scotland and identifies the potential for the creation of up to 46,000 new jobs if the conditions to support growth are in place.

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These conditions include two matters which would dramatically improve our price competitiveness and attractiveness to international markets:

n Reducing to 5 per cent the rate of VAT applied to visitor accommodation and admissions to visitor attractions;

n Reducing, or even eliminating, the high level of air passenger duty which is deterring international visitors to the UK and damaging our economy.

It would be wrong to infer that the growth of tourism is down to government alone, whether at Westminster or Holyrood. In June last year, the tourism industry published its strategy for leadership and growth – Tourism Scotland 2020. This sets out an ambitious, collective vision for Scotland to be a “destination of first choice for a high-quality, value-for-money and memorable customer experience, delivered by skilled and passionate people”. The strategy also aims to secure growth of between 20 per cent and 40 per cent by 2020 against the current £4.5bn visitor spending in Scotland.

Without action by the industry and support from government, the somewhat bleak outlook projected in Bill Jamieson’s article will become a reality despite the opportunity presented by the panoply of great events and activities which we are to host in 2014.

Willie Macleod, Executive Director, Scotland, British Hospitality Association, Peebles