The newly-formed Hospitality & Tourism Action Group warns there is a risk of untold damage being done to Scotland’s tourism and hospitality sectors if they are unable to unlock in tandem with those in other parts of the UK, with around 285,000 jobs under threat.
Businesses in Scotland were left 'bitterly disappointed' yesterday (23 February) after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon failed to offer any real clarity as to when restrictions in Scotland will be lifted.
Responding to the announcement, the Hospitality & Tourism Action Group has set out its own timeframe for getting the industry back on its feet again after almost 12 months of government-imposed lockdowns and trading restrictions.
According to the group, the industry believes it has been unnecessarily placed in a situation that threatens to 'kill the green shoots of recovery' for 2021 completely.
Unlike Prime Minister Boris Johnson's roadmap for England, which offered a more detailed plan to gradually ease lockdown measures south of the border between March and June, the First Minister's own announcement only confirmed that Scotland will return to a regional system of restrictions from the end of April.
Sturgeon said she hoped all parts of Scotland currently in Level 4 – the highest level on the country’s five stage scale - will be able to move initially to Level 3 when the country returns to a variable Levels approach.
However, she added that some revision to the content of the levels could also be introduced.
Under current Level 3 restrictions, hospitality is subject to a 6pm curfew and is prohibited from serving alcohol.
Rather than cautious hope, the Hospitality & Tourism Action Group says the industry now faces widespread cancellations as people make plans to head elsewhere in the UK, and a 'summer of depressed trade' that will have a severe impact on jobs.
The group, led by Tanja Lister from Kylesku Hotel in Sutherland, is asking for the immediate alignment in Scotland to the reopening dates set out by the Prime Minister in England as 17 May for hotels and restaurants and mid-April for self-catering apartments, and has started a petition calling on the devolved Government to implement this.
“We’re calling for a more strategic alignment of hospitality and tourism opening across the UK," says Lister.
"The current plans, confusion and loss of confidence risk devastation for our industry and the lives and livelihoods linked to it.”
Additionally, the Hospitality & Tourism Action Group is asking for clarity on both travel and prospective regional restrictions.
With international travel highly unlikely to happen before later in the year, it says the industry needs to maximise the opportunities from within both Scotland and the rest of the UK.
Equally, there is greater clarity demanded about the logic of placing the whole country into Level 3 - restrictions that effectively hold the sector in a state of lockdown - when the data, even now with two months to go, would seemingly point toward a logic of lower levels as judged by the Scottish Government’s own previous parameters.
The group is also calling for an immediate review of financial aid for Scotland’s hospitality sector, with the introduction of 'more meaningful grants' that are in line with those provided during the first lockdown.
It adds that longer-term financial help is also needed to alleviate the impact of another shortened season.
"The financial support on offer in 2021 is very much lacking in comparison to last year," says Lister.
"We’re calling for full proper furlough reinstated until their businesses are allowed to open. Anything less risks many of our businesses not reaching the starting line.
"We need more meaningful grant support that is index linked to the rateable value of businesses.
"Leaving our businesses with such a significant shortfall now risks some falling at the last hurdle and would result in previous financial support having been in vain.”
The First Minister acknowledged in her speech yesterday that her cautious approach will be 'extremely difficult' for many businesses, adding that the Government is committed to continuing financial support for those firms suffering as a result of the pandemic.
She also said that she is considering 'some form of tapered support' for businesses that may still face trading restrictions and reduced demand, even if they are allowed to reopen.
"We will also ensure that when local authority areas move out of Level 4, businesses which are allowed to reopen will continue to receive payments from the [Strategic Framework Business Fund] for at least the next four weeks as they transition back to trading more normally," she said.