Coronavirus: Businesses need support if tourism is to flourish again

Many venues may not survive until predicted staycation boom materialises, writes publican Billy Gold

Billy Gold of the Hielan Jessie

I saw a letter in the Glasgow Herald recently which included the phrase “Scottish scenery is magnificent but you can’t eat it or drink it” – for me it just about sums up the crisis facing tourism in Scotland.

Without a fully functioning hospitality industry, how do we turn visitor numbers into cash (like the £5 billion spent by 15.5 visitors in 2018)? But without our hospitality industry would we have any visitors?

Tourism minister Fergus Ewing has predicted a “staycation boom”, but will the 1000 hoteliers from the Highlands who have written a plea for help and support to the first minister survive with no income, losing a full season until this predicted boom materialises? Will the group of chefs from some of our finest establishments who also issued a stark warning of job losses and venue closures still be enhancing Scotland’s reputation for world class food and produce?

Fergus Ewing spoke to the Culture, Tourism and External Affairs committee last week and in his statement he said: “As cabinet secretary responsible for tourism it is clear to me that the impact on tourism has been devastating; there is in essence no tourism in Scotland currently.” He also spoke of “measures to provide financial support to businesses that have suffered a sudden devastating and unprecedented loss of income”; later in his statement he acknowledged that “the recovery for the tourism sector will not be quick, it will be slow”.

All of this sounds very encouraging and I am sure those within the hospitality sector who have been able to access financial help are grateful. However, as a member of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association I am aware that many venues have not been able claim the financial support Mr Ewing refers to – those with a rateable value over £51,000 or those who are still waiting for grants to be paid, the arbitrary £51,000 figure leaving around 2500 of our hotels, pubs and restaurants struggling for survival.

This will be a long and arduous journey for our trade; but I believe that with ongoing financial support which recognises the new realities we will face, the hospitality sector can help to regenerate the Scottish economy by doing what we do best: providing a welcome to visitors and locals, showcasing Scottish food and drink, providing employment and generating revenues at local and national level, and, of course, showing the world why Scotland is a place where in the local pub, in a four-star hotel, in a Michelin-starred restaurant or even eating chips on the sea front in Saltcoats, you are welcome.

Billy Gold is the owner of the Hielan Jessie pub in Glasgow.