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The tourist industry on Arran was dealt a crushing blow this week when first minister Nicola Sturgeon advised against booking holidays, even in Scotland, over the Easter holidays.
Many in hospitality and tourism-related businesses had hoped to kick-start the summer season at Easter after much of the 2020 season was wiped out by the pandemic.
Giving her Covid update statement to MSPs on Tuesday the first minister said it was ‘highly unlikely’ that hotels or self-catering accommodation would be open by the start of April – the traditional start of the summer season on Arran.
However, she said that ‘staycations’ might be possible by the summer, although it would depend on Covid data nearer the time.
The first minister announced details of the review of current lockdown restrictions, telling the Scottish parliament that ‘our room for manoeuvre remains very limited’.
‘Even a slight easing of restrictions could cause cases to start rising rapidly again,’ she said, adding that ‘because of the new, more infectious variant, our exit from lockdown is likely to be even more cautious than it was last summer’.
Ms Sturgeon said that the Scottish government was preparing a revised strategic framework, which will set out in more detail when and how we might gradually emerge from lockdown and it is hoped that this will be published next week.
The revised framework will ‘aim to set out how we will use and balance all the tools at our disposal – restrictions and advice, vaccination, test and protect, and travel restrictions – to restore, on a phased basis, greater normality to our everyday lives’.
However, there was some relief for the beleaguered Scottish tourism industry as, following the announcement of £1.1bn of consequential funding from the UK government, finance secretary Kate Forbes MSP has confirmed the extension of 100 per cent business rates relief for another year for retail, tourism, hospitality and aviation businesses.
The move builds on the three-month rates relief extension announced in the Scottish budget and will be taken forward provided the Scottish government receives the funding already assumed from the UK budget on March 3, and that requisite funds are available to maintain existing support into 2021-22.
Ms Forbes said: ‘When I presented our budget last month I guaranteed to extend non-domestic rates relief further if I was given the necessary resources. I can now deliver on that promise, providing the UK budget in March delivers the funding we require.’
Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said: ‘The STA welcomes the first minister’s announcement that the Scottish Government’s strategic framework is under review and that the updated route map will hopefully be published next week.
‘It is absolutely critical that the tourism industry is given as clear an indication as possible around reopening, given the sheer reliance on the domestic market as a result of the Scottish government’s extension of quarantine and the need for businesses to start trading again.
‘Many businesses have already rolled over bookings from last year to this year and there can be no guarantee that those customers will maintain their commitment given this level of uncertainty
‘Since the first minister’s announcement this afternoon, we have had an influx of correspondence from tourism businesses extremely anxious at the First Minister’s indication that an Easter reopening is highly unlikely and that a question mark has been placed over domestic travel this summer.
The STA board will meet with the first minister in the coming weeks and take the opportunity to update Ms Sturgeon on the desperate state that the industry is in.
‘I know of numerous businesses which are wholly reliant on being able to trade again at Easter in order to stay solvent; the indication that this is highly unlikely will, I know, serve as a crushing blow to many.
‘On a positive note, I know that our industry is breathing a huge sigh of relief as a result of the finance secretary’s announcement that she will extend 100 per cent business rates relief to the sector for another year.
‘Scotland’s tourism industry continues to be 100 per cent aligned to the health agenda; our businesses are committed to opening in a safe and secure way, giving customers confidence as a result of the level of financial investment which has been adopted across the sector,’ he added.