Scottish tourism chiefs warn of looming 'devastation' for industry after flood of festive cancellations

Scottish tourism chiefs have warned the sector is facing “unprecedented devastation” as a result of the tightened coronavirus restrictions after operators were hit with a “flood” of last-minute festive season cancellations.

Edinburgh's normally-thriving tourism industry has been devastated this year. Picture: VisitScotland/Kenny Lam

Industry leaders have predicted “grave” levels of job losses and business closures unless urgent and “extraordinary” financial help is provided by the Scottish Government.

The warnings have been made as it emerged that one in five tourism businesses in Scotland have used up all of their cash reserves - with a further quarter predicting they will also run out within the next few months unless restrictions are lifted.

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The recent survey of nearly 3000 businesses found that more than a third have made staff redundant in 2022, while more than two thirds expected to have to make cuts in the next few months.

Hospitality businesses in the Highlands, like the Clachaig Inn in Glencoe, will be forced to close on Boxing Day. Picture: VisitScotland / David N Anderson

Some operators are said to have estimated losses of up to £600,000 as a result of the announcement that Level 4 restrictions would be imposed across mainland Scotland from Boxing Day.

The Scottish Tourism Alliance, which has published an open letter to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on behalf of the industry, said it was already “decimated” by the pandemic and only had the “slimmest prospects of recovery” in the next few months before the latest curbs were announced.

It has been endorsed by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, Scotland Food and Drink and UK Hospitality.

A planned five-day relaxation of travel restrictions within Scotland has been reduced to just one – Christmas Day – while hospitality businesses have been told to close from Boxing Day. The only exceptions are in island communities.

The Royal Mile was virtually deserted during Edinburgh's peak tourism season in July and August.

In his letter, STA chief executive Marc Crothall said: "Operators are now dealing with a flood of cancellations and have lost much-needed revenue. With no opportunity to trade viably over the coming weeks and potentially months, there is a need for an even greater level of financial support to save businesses and jobs including those in the supply chain and the livelihoods of many in the local communities that the industry supports.

“The scale of job loss will be grave without longer term financial support for business. Several operators who had seen a window of opportunity to trade over Christmas and into the new year have taken on new employees.

"The scale of damage and devastation to businesses, local economies, communities and livelihoods will be unprecedented without immediate, more meaningful, targeted and robust support."

The government recently announced an additional £185 million to help businesses, including in the hospitality sector, withstand the impact of the pandemic.

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Mr Crothall added: “Your announcement that restrictions will be tightened for the foreseeable future is clear and understood and is a decisive response to the health risk.

"The ask of the industry is that the government now delivers a similarly swift and committed response to the economic consequences of this action.”

The recent industry survey, conducted between 19 November and 6 December, found that more than a third of Scotland’s tourism businesses had performed worse than expected since reopening in the summer. Around six per cent of operators said they had lost more than £1 million as a result of the pandemic.

Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of government agency VisitScotland, said: "The survey paints a grim picture for tourism businesses trying to keep afloat during a global pandemic.”

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