'No evidence' of staycation boom for Scotland's crisis-hit tourism industry

·4 min read
Scotland's hotels have reported low occupancy rates, especially in cities -  georgeclerk/ E+
Scotland's hotels have reported low occupancy rates, especially in cities - georgeclerk/ E+

Scotland's crisis-hit tourism industry is facing a prolonged downturn with an "extremely slow" start to accommodation bookings following lockdown and no evidence of a summer 'staycation' boom, according to new research.

The Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) survey found 30 per cent of businesses remained closed when restrictions started to be eased on April 26, allowing hospitality to reopen with limited hours and no alcohol service indoors.

Of this group, 31 per cent plan to remain closed when lockdown is eased further on Monday with longer opening hours and alcohol permitted inside.

The reseach also surveyed accommodation providers, with nearly half stating that their occupancy rates are below 20 per cent for May, June and July.

More than half of Scotland's rural hotels have less than 50 per cent occupancy for this period. Only three out of 10 said they expect more than 60 per cent occupancy in June and July.

The predicted occupancy rate in Scotland's cities is "worryingly low", the research said, with 94 per cent of hotels stating they will be less than half full this month. This figure increases to 98 per cent for June before falling to 87 per cent in July.

The STA, the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA), the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC) and Wild Scotland, the trade body representing the adventure tourism sector shows that the industry, said the research made a nonsense of claims of a 'staycation' boom this summer.

Instead they warned that the industry is far from recovery and in many respects is in a worse position now than it was a year ago. In a separate survey conducted last month, ASVA found that 54 per cent of attractions will remain closed thanks to two metre social distancing restrictions or will lose money when they do reopen.

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The findings were published as official figures disclosed weekly Covid deaths in Scotland have fallen to single figures for the first time since September.

National Records of Scotland (NRS) statistics showed seven deaths related to coronavirus were registered between May 3 and May 9, down 12 on the previous week.

Nicola Sturgeon has announced that social distancing will be abandoned in private homes and gardens from Monday, but will continue in public places, including pubs and restaurants.

Hospitality venues will be permitted to serve alcohol indoors until 10.30pm as the mainland moves to Level 2 of Ms Sturgeon's five-tier system. The only exception is Moray, where there has been an outbreak, which will remain in Level 3.

Marc Crothall, the STA's chief executive, said: "Our survey uncovered what we knew was happening across the industry from anecdotal conversations; that things were nowhere near as buoyant as has been suggested and in fact, that too many businesses across all sectors within our industry are continuing to operate in crisis mode."

He said he hoped this changed following the further easing of restrictions on Monday and "a great deal rides on" this, particularly for the night time economy and events industry.

However, he said the latest easing of lockdown does not go far enough for many firms, for which "it may very well be too late for recovery".

Of the 271 businesses surveyed by the STA, 38 per cent said that their average gross food and beverage takings since reopening were les than a fifth of the normal level.

Occupancy rates in Glasgow hotels were 14 per cent this month and June, dropping to 13 per cent in July and 15 per cent in August. The figures for Edinburgh were only slightly better.

Maurice Golden, a Scottish Tory MSP, said Ms Sturgeon's refusal to accelerate the easing of lockdown "has caused more unnecessary damage to the future prospects of many businesses."

He added: "These findings from those at the heart of Scotland’s tourism sector should be a wake-up call for SNP ministers."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We recognise the exceptional challenges the sector is facing as it begins to reopen, particularly in the cities and in the recovery of international markets.

"We are beginning to see some positive signs of consumer confidence returning to the domestic tourism market and look forward to this continuing over the coming months."