Pictured: David Whiteford OBE (Chair of the North Highland Initiative) and Tanja Lister from The Kylesku Hotel in Sutherland, who are leading the group Highland tourism businesses, destination management and business associations.
75 tourism and hospitality business leaders from across the North Highlands, North Coast 500, Argyll and the Isle of Skye have personally signed an open letter to the First Minister demanding immediate action and support to protect the industry and save jobs.
The group represents over 1,200 full time equivalent seasonal and permanent jobs.
8 destination management and business associations have also responded, who represent over 1,100 businesses in the North Highlands between them.
Tourism spend in the Highlands alone is worth over £1 billion a year, which represents more than 10% of business share.
It creates more than 15,700 jobs.
Tourism and hospitality have been hit very hard by the lockdown, perhaps nowhere more so than in the Highlands, with its tiny, highly dispersed population, fragile communities and short season.
As soon as it is safe to do so, these businesses need to be open in alignment with the rest of Scotland, ideally the rest of the UK.
There have been calls to extend the lockdown in the Highlands for longer, beyond the rest of Scotland or UK.
Given the timing and realities of our situation, this could be ruinous.
If these businesses cannot open until the autumn then, given the short season, it will be less viable for those that are seasonal to reopen until next year, meaning many will have been shut for 18 months.
The difference between re-opening in July or September could likely be the determining factor in the survival of the industry, its suppliers and producers.
As we learn more about the current nature of customer demand and the appetite for a ‘staycation’, the industry will need continued financial support from the government whilst they navigate the short to medium term.
Ongoing furlough, with phasing, may need to be reviewed again as matters progress.
Access to grants and loans will be key as we move into 2021.
Given the nature of the region, it is firmly believed the Highlands will once more become a much sought-after holiday destination.
In fact, demand might ultimately grow above previous levels.
However, the challenge ahead for many is to survive the short to medium term.
The absolute imperative is to protect lives from the immediate danger of the virus.
Once this threat recedes, the sector would urge the Scottish Government to:
Ensure our ministers take a positive lead to help allay the understandable anxieties within our communities about the prospect of tourists returning once more.
To balance both the short- and long-term impacts when evaluating the risks.
Unless there is clear scientific evidence to suggest otherwise, to unlock the Highlands in alignment with the rest of Scotland, ideally the rest of the UK.
Set out a clear, comprehensive and transparent plan including timelines.
It is recognised that these are dependent upon the progress of the virus, but this will help businesses to start planning and narrow working assumptions.
Avoid a ‘one size fits all’ approach to the diverse industry and ongoing financial support that recognises the difficulty of bridging the winter fallow period.
David Whiteford OBE (Chair of the North Highland Initiative) and Tanja Lister from The Kylesku Hotel in Sutherland are leading the group Highland tourism businesses, destination management and business associations.