Coronavirus: Fiona Hyslop ‘would hope’ Scottish tourism businesses will have a season

Economy secretary cannot give definitive dates for reopening but said Scotland is behind rest of UK ‘in a number of weeks’ in terms of easing restrictions

ECONOMY secretary Fiona Hyslop “would hope” Scottish tourism businesses will have a season this year but said she cannot at this stage give definitive dates for when pubs, restaurants and hotels will be able to open.

Speaking on BBC’s Politics Scotland on Sunday (May 24), Hyslop said Scotland is “several weeks” behind the rest of the UK in terms of the virus and that “those timeframes mean that we will be behind them in a number of weeks in terms of easing of peoples’ movement”.

The Scottish Government’s ‘route map’, published last Thursday (May 21), outlined plans for easing lockdown measures in Scotland in four phases, with phase one expected to be implemented this Thursday (May 28). Phase two will see outdoor areas and beer gardens allowed to open with “physical distancing and increased hygiene routines” in place; phase three would see pubs and restaurants’ indoor space allowed to reopen, again with social distancing and hygiene measures in place, and restrictions on hotels eased; and, in phase four, all types of outlet should be able to reopen in line with public health advice. No date has been given for the implementation of each phase but the Scottish Government is legally bound to review the restrictions every three weeks, and first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that each phase would not necessarily be implemented every three weeks.

Speaking on Sunday, Hyslop said dates “will be driven by the experience of the virus and the experience in terms of what happens when we start easing”.

“If we can deliver phase one safely and well without increasing the infection rate in the community, it will make it easier to help bring forward those dates that people want to hear,” she said.

If you wanted me to give you a definitive date today, I cannot do that because the public health situation means we cannot with certainty give a firm date. I will support [tourism businesses] to have a season.

“I would hope that they would have a season. We won’t know until we see the pattern, particularly as we phase through this easing of the lockdown, what the pattern of this virus will be but we do want to support them.

“If you look at the movement of people, we need to ensure that there is a relaxation to allow people to move so that they can have those staycations. We’re not in that situation just now.

“I think there needs to be a huge support for the tourism sector from Scots who, when they are able to book holidays, they can and they do that in Scotland, but it might be a later season than we might ordinarily have.

“It’s important to help them have a season and that’s why there are a number of different measures that we’re putting in place but a lot of this is on the UK Government. “

Hyslop said hospitality businesses should have support continued through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. She also wants to see the UK Government cut VAT and extend support for businesses over the £51,000 rateable value threshold, which are currently not able to access grants.

“I’ve already spoken to the ministers in BEIS (department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) and the chancellor of the exchequer to ensure that they understand there have to be sectoral differences for the extension of support, particularly for tourism and hospitality, culture and heritage, which are hugely important to Scotland, and they need to understand that,” she said.

The economy secretary was also asked if the current two-metre social distancing rule was being reviewed. There have been repeated calls from operators and trade groups to reduce the distance on the grounds that a two-metre distance is not commercially viable or practical for many pubs and restaurants.

Hyslop acknowledged that the two-metre distance does present challenges.

“What we’re doing now is obviously looking at what safe looks like for work environments and clearly in terms of restaurants that two-metre rule really causes issues,” she said.

“You’ll see in the phasing that outdoor restaurants are part of that phasing in terms of how we can come back, but in terms of the science of this… I am not a public health expert and I am not going to tell you that somehow we can move from two [metres] to one.

“We want to engage with [hospitality businesses], we want our public health advisors and experts to engage with the sector to see what is possible. I have to be clear, at the moment two metres remains the rule.”