Coronavirus: Scottish Government’s reopening plan ‘will destroy hospitality businesses’

Restart should be based on safety protocols not outdoor space, says trade group

THE Scottish Government’s plan for the phased reopening of pubs, restaurants and hotels risks “destroying” hospitality businesses, leaving venues with no outdoor space behind, trade groups have warned.

The plans, which will see outdoor areas and beer gardens allowed to reopen ahead of bars, restaurants and hotels, have come under fire from some corners of the industry, with UK Hospitality describing the proposals as “illogical”.

The route map, revealed by first minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday (Thursday May 21), outlines plans for easing lockdown measures in Scotland in four phases, with phase one expected to begin next Thursday (May 28). Outdoor areas and beer gardens will be allowed to open in phase two with “physical distancing and increased hygiene routines” in place. No date has been given for phase two but the Scottish Government is legally bound to review the restrictions every three weeks; Sturgeon said yesterday that each phase would not necessarily be implemented every three weeks.

Phase three will allow the opening of pubs and restaurants’ indoor space with “physical distancing and increased hygiene routines” in place; and restrictions on hotels relaxed. There is no mention of nightclubs in the route map, but it does state that in phase three live events would be permitted “with restricted numbers and physical distancing restrictions”.  By phase four, all types of outlet should be able to reopen in line with public health advice. As reported previously in SLTN, operators have voiced concerns over trading with social distancing (currently two metres), saying it is not commercially viable or practical.

Willie Macleod, executive director for Scotland at UK Hospitality, criticised the Scottish Government’s plan for reopening hospitality businesses, saying the proposals “have been drawn up arbitrarily, with no consultation with the sector and little forethought for the impact on hospitality businesses”.

“We are seriously concerned that the Scottish Government’s plan for reopening will do more harm than good,” he said.

“It appears not to be based in any logic and has the potential to create a two-tier sector with many already-hammered businesses being left behind.

“Reopening hospitality businesses should be phased according to agreed protocols to ensure healthy, hygienic and safe spaces for staff members and tourists. The Scottish Government’s plans rests on whether businesses have an outdoor space or not; not whether they are able to operate safely with social distancing guidelines in place.

“Subjecting businesses that do not have outdoor spaces but could operate perfectly safely to further forced closure is illogical and will do serious harm.

“Hospitality and tourism businesses in Scotland have already been hammered by this crisis and most will have had no revenue for over three months. Many businesses have also struggled to access financial support and the larger businesses have been denied grant support altogether. The reality is that some businesses will not survive this crisis.

“The Scottish Government’s plan for reopening must ensure that every single business is given the best possible chance to survive. The route map announced does not do this.”

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) welcomed the publication of the route map but has also voiced concerns.

“The announcement that licensed premises with outdoor areas will be able to reopen sooner is of some comfort for those who can provide this facility and at a scale which makes it viable to do so and can overcome social distancing restriction, but for most, those with a small or no outside area, there is no early reprieve,” said SLTA managing director Colin Wilkinson.

“For those who might now consider using an area they have not used before there are the onerous hurdles of planning and licensing requirements to overcome, not to mention costs.

“Let’s also not forget social distancing measures that will need to be put in place, which if maintained at the current level of two metres, could cut normal capacity by between 60% and 80%.

“Last, but not least, the Scottish weather comes into the fray and if outdoor areas are to be truly outdoor, then no canopies, side screens, marquees, etc. otherwise what’s the difference with being in an indoor area?

“The bottom line is that each business will need to assess the practicalities, cost and viability of opening up an outdoor area. Governments must not see this initial partial opening opportunity and the future full opening of the industry, both with social distancing restrictions in place, as a marker to phase out the vital ongoing and additional support this industry will need for the months, if not years, ahead.”

The Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) has also reiterated calls for support for the sector and has written to Nicola Sturgeon asking her to enable certain parts of the industry, including hotels, to open sooner than outlined in the route map.

“Pubs and restaurants which can cater outdoors will be encouraged to have heard in your announcement of the Scottish Government’s route map out of lockdown today that they will be allowed to open in phase two providing they are using those outdoor spaces with social distancing measures in place,” said the letter from STA chief executive Marc Crothall.

“We are however disheartened at the suggested phasing for the opening of other parts of the tourism sector and without specific reference to accommodation types in the route map.

“At this juncture there remain many hundreds of tourism businesses receiving no significant grant support, particularly those whose rateable value sits above the £51,000 threshold. These medium to large businesses – hotels, bars, restaurants and visitor attractions – are the lifeblood of Scotland’s tourism industry and major employers. Their monthly hibernation costs range from £10,000 per month to £350,000 and with no income or support, they are now collapsing.

“The reality of the gradual ease of lockdown restrictions outlined will most likely mean that the majority of the tourism sector will have missed the entire summer season which is critical in terms of generating enough revenue for tourism businesses to survive the shoulder season.

“Without a long-term package of support for recovery, any businesses that do survive the next 12 weeks by using their own reserves are unlikely to stay open for much longer beyond that.

“It cannot be underestimated just how many tourism businesses will close within the next few weeks, given that they have no early opportunity to open.”