Many long-running museums, galleries, gardens, castles and palaces may be forced to shut down for good if they cannot reopen this summer, according to the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions.
The industry body, which represents more than 450 different sites, said nearly half of them had raised concerns about being unable to survive the next three months without generating any income while facing huge running costs.
However ASVA said many of its members had already “written off this season,” while others were trying to plan ahead on the basis of a partial reopening, but having to keep their cafes and shops closed.
The warnings over the possible demise of visitor attractions emerged as new research revealed that nearly half of all tourism businesses in Scotland say they will “struggle” to get through the coronavirus pandemic.
ASVA’s sites are said to attract more than 37 million visitors across Scotland each year, as well as support more than 5000 jobs.
ASVA chief executive Gordon Morrison said: “The average ongoing running costs for our member attractions comes out at around £64,000 per month, which includes staff costs – even when taking advantage of the job retention scheme – maintenance, security, insurance, utilities and equipment hire.
“But there is no income for attractions just now and the level of losses is unsustainable for many.
“Most have very limited reserves, which were mainly used up during the winter months and on expenditure to get ready for what was expected to be a busy season ahead.
“Most attractions make their money between March and October. But with little or no season likely this year, many face either huge levels of debt or going out of business entirely within 12 months.”
Latest UK-wide research has found that just one in five people are expecting to able to go to visitor attractions again with the next three months.
The study for the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions said operators would have to consider whether to limit visitor numbers, how to “police” social distancing measures, be more flexible on providing picnic facilities and provide hand sanitiser around their sites.
The report states: “The market is highly cautious overall, waiting to see how well attractions handle the reopening phase before committing to visits. How well we deal with fears over crowds and our ability to implement and police distancing measures on site will determine our success.”
Mr Morrison added: “It’ll take time to build consumer confidence. Public safety is definitely the main priority. Attractions will however play a very significant part in the recovery, so it is important there is government support for our sector to ensure we’re there to support the economy.
“We have a very diverse sector and some will find it easier to open than others. Outdoor sites will benefit first – it’ll be a slower recovery for indoor attractions. Parks, gardens and zoos are likely to be in a position to re-open more quickly and take advantage of people being keen to get out and do something.
“Indoor attractions will find it much more difficult, particularly with social distancing restrictions limiting visitor numbers.
“A number of sites are looking at partial re-opening, whilst others have already written off this season and are now planning for 2021. But without further financial support from the Scottish and UK governments, some attractions will definitely go under if they are unable to reopen this summer.”
Meanwhile the Scottish Tourism Alliance, the main voice of the industry north of the border, has revealed the scale of concern from businesses about the impact of the crisis.
Nearly half of those surveyed said they would not be able to retain any staff at all after May unless the furlough scheme was extended. Almost a third said they only had enough reserves to last for another three months.
STA chief executive Marc Crothall said: “All businesses are carrying overhauls and a lot of them have been unable to access any kind of grant.
“They have significant hibernation costs. If they can’t generate revenue, businesses will collapse. It’s about trying to see as many of them as possible through to the autumn and winter
“It’s not just about the virus and social distancing – it will also be about whether there will be enough of a volume of visitors through to reach the break event point.”
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