Scottish tourism industry calls for social distancing to be reduced to one metre

Thousands of tourism jobs in Edinburgh are said to be under threat due to the impact of social distancing restrictions on the industry. Picture: Kenny LamThousands of tourism jobs in Edinburgh are said to be under threat due to the impact of social distancing restrictions on the industry. Picture: Kenny Lam
Thousands of tourism jobs in Edinburgh are said to be under threat due to the impact of social distancing restrictions on the industry. Picture: Kenny Lam
Tourism leaders have pleaded with the Scottish Government to relax the two-metre social distancing rule - amid claims tens of thousands of jobs across the industry are hanging in the balance.

More than 25 different organisations have joined forces to call for the move, claiming Scotland faces being left behind countries around the world unless the restriction is cut in half.

The warning of widespread job losses has been issued by visitor attractions, accommodation operators, tour guides, licensed associations and transport groups in the wake of hundreds of job cuts in Scotland being announced by the Intercontinental Hotel Group and Rolls Royce.

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An open letter from the Scottish tourism industry has called for the government to give the green light to the first tourism businesses to open their doors to help act as a “safety valve” on destinations which came under pressure when lockdown rules were relaxed last weekend.

The head of the Scottish Government’s own tourism agency today expressed concern about the impact of “rubbish strewn parks and beaches, drunken behaviour and traffic jams” on local communities.

Tourism minister Fergus Ewing is being lobbied for a change in the two-metre rule despite First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urging the public to adhere to the “clear and strong advice” from the government as recently as Monday.

The Scottish Tourism Alliance, which has published an open letter to the government from the industry, claims the majority of tourism businesses insist reopening would not be “economically viable” if the two-metre rule is kept intact during the recovery period over the next few months.

Signatories to the letter, which calls for a one-metre rule to be put in place, citing World Health Organisation research, include the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions, the National Trust for Scotland, the Scottish B&B Association and the Scottish Licensed Trade Association.

The letter states: “The survival of businesses across all sectors of Scotland’s tourism industry remains of paramount importance to our organisation and indeed for the economy, as are the conditions around reopening to allow businesses to plan to start trading again and offer the public and employees the required level of confidence.

“Perhaps the most important issue which will affect the viability of the majority of tourism businesses is the two-metre rule for social distancing. We would ask that the government carefully evaluate and give every due consideration to agreeing to the one metre parameter for distancing which is considered by the WHO to be a safe distance.

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“The STA has had numerous discussions with businesses and sectoral associations to discuss the likelihood of being able to open and trade viably if the two-metre rule was to be extended through the different phases of reopening.

“The reality as I’m sure you know is that the majority believe it will not be economically viable to do so and as a result would have to close until such time as there was a change to the distancing measures.

“Many may not be able to hold out until then and the difference could mean many tens of thousands of jobs being saved or lost.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Scotland’s tourism sector has been hit hard by this pandemic and we do not underestimate the crisis this has created. It is essential however that re-opening of the sector is phased and gradual in order to ensure the protection of public health.

“As we slowly and cautiously ease lockdown measures, we have been clear we simply don’t want, in this phase, to see large numbers of people at tourist hot spots or local beauty spots.

“Crowds of people – even if they’re trying to physically distance – bring more risk than we judge is acceptable and safe at this point. As the First Minister has made clear, the advice from the Scottish Government is to stay two metres apart from people in other households.

“No one wants this to go on any longer than is needed to protect people from the spread of the virus, and the timeline for further changes to restrictions will be based on the best scientific evidence available.

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“The plan developed by the Scottish Tourism Emergency Response Group on how to respond to the impact of the virus on the sector will help inform how we move forward as we slowly and carefully emerge from this crisis.”

Meanwhile VisitScotland chief executive Malcolm Roughead has condemned the “terrible” behaviour of Scots who broke the lockdown rules at beauty spots last weekend.

He has warned of a risk that visitors will not be welcome back to some areas if locals are not “treated with respect.”

Writing on his blog, Mr Roughead said First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was “quite right” to threaten to bring in legal curbs on travel in response to the scenes which unfolded in areas around Loch Lomond.

He said: “Scenes of rubbish strewn parks and beaches, drunken behaviour, traffic jams and very little thought about social distancing did not showcase the Scotland we want to live in and promote.

“Everyone was told not to drive to beauty spots because no facilities were open, including toilets and car parks. So, people parked on verges and made life unpleasant for the local community – just what tourism didn’t need.

“We want tourism businesses to open up and the industry to get back to normal as soon as possible but we also don’t want to add to the number of people getting this disease. It’s a real dilemma for the many tourism businesses devastated by lockdown who need to be able to open quickly to get some summer income.

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“We keep asking for dates from the government to help us restart our lives, but the reality is that none of this will happen if we don’t continue to follow the science.

“The tourism industry needs to get going as quickly as possible, but it needs to do that alongside the communities they are part of and they need to do that safely.

“This minority will continue to be a problem, but I did want to remind everyone that the visitor is not the enemy. The visitor, whether on a day trip or on an extended holiday, brings huge benefits to Scotland.

“It’s not just economic, taking a trip helps with people’s well-being and mental health and we’ll all need that after this lockdown ends.

“Tourism sustains many rural economies tackling issues like depopulation and brings entrepreneurial talent to life in Scotland.

“Tourism businesses are part of the community, providing jobs and allowing us all to meet people from across the world. They allow us to live in our communities and keep our families in the area.

We talk about the visitor economy and the ripple effect of tourism – it doesn’t just sustain those businesses but helps sustain others around them. Without the tourism businesses, the florists, local craft shop or pub would not thrive.

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“I hope that we can be kinder to our communities, and that our communities can work with tourism to create the right balance.

“Communities will not welcome back visitors if people don’t understand that locals living in these towns and villages deserve to be treated with respect.

“But we also know that visitors are important for these local economies and need to return to help those areas thrive.

“Finding that balance is tricky but I’m already seeing local destination organisations taking the initiative to have conversations about not just reopening businesses but working in their areas to see how the industry can restart with consensus across those communities.”

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