Mixed response to reopening details

Indicative dates welcomed but “bitter disappointment” at ban on indoor alcohol sales

TODAY’S announcements on the easing of lockdown restrictions and planned reopening of the hospitality sector have been met with a mixed response from trade groups and operators.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon announced today (16th March) indicative dates for the reopening of the sector. She said that, from 26th April, venues should be able to serve six customers from up to three households in outdoor areas and four customers from two households indoors. Alcohol will be allowed in outdoor areas but not indoors until at least mid-May. The announcements formed part of a wider easing of lockdown restrictions in the coming months.

Responding to the news Willie Macleod, executive director for Scotland at UK Hospitality, said that although there is now “light at the end of the tunnel”, there will be “significant disappointment” from parts of the industry.

“We had proposed that alcohol be served indoors with a meal, so for that not to be allowed is a major disappointment,” said Macleod.

“Restricting outdoor spaces to just six people from three households will likewise be a significant barrier to viability. The curfews, 10pm for outdoors and 8pm for indoors, will also seriously restrict businesses’ ability to break even.

“These businesses are, in many cases, only just clinging on.”

Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, agreed.

He said the continued restrictions on trading indoors will be “a bitter blow” to many operators.

“We welcome these indicative dates for reopening as they provide more clarity for businesses but overall, these slight lifting of restrictions don’t go far enough and, for the majority, reopening will remain unviable,” said Wilkinson.

“We’re bitterly disappointed.”

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the Scottish Beer & Pub Association, said the indicative dates for reopening will give bar and pub operators “some hope”, but “still falls short on what many pubs and bars require”.

“The recovery period doesn’t fully begin until all restrictions have been removed, particularly for wet pubs and late-night venues,” said McClarkin.

“We urge the Scottish Government to confirm as soon as possible the date in which all restrictions will be removed, until then many businesses will be forced to sit and wait.”

And Stephen Montgomery, spokesman for the Scottish Hospitality Group, called on the Scottish Government to “review its stance on alcohol and the arbitrary curfews it is imposing”.

Others were more upbeat about the plans.

Nic Wood, owner of Edinburgh-based Signature Group, said: “Whilst there has never been any evidence to suggest hospitality spread the virus, and the restrictions to trade and guidance to operate make transmission unlikely, we are encouraged that the Scottish Government is listening and beginning to understand the complexities of our sector.

“No one is underestimating the effects of the pandemic and public health is right to be at the forefront of all minds but we need to consider the economic implications and find the right balance.

“Jobs must be protected and this news will come as relief to the 250,000 employed in the Scottish hospitality industry.

“Reopening will be steady and practical and we need customers and patrons to come out, when they feel the time is right and support their bars and restaurants.”

This was echoed by Tanja Lister, owner of the Kylesku Hotel in Sutherland, who said the team at the hotel “very much welcome the indicative timelines as set out by the first minister”.

“After a bruising year, we’re eagerly awaiting to reopen our doors once more and welcome back our much-missed guests,” said Lister.

“Whilst it has inevitably been, and continues to be, a challenging time, the messages of support and the pent-up demand have carried us through this.

“The last year has underlined the key role that hospitality and tourism plays as part of our way of life and also wellbeing. We will be ready with that famous Highland welcome just as soon as restrictions lift.”

And Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) chief executive, Marc Crothall, said the reopening dates “will be massively welcomed by the sector”.

“The STA has been in discussion with the Scottish Government on almost a daily basis over the past few weeks to highlight the need for a clearer route out of lockdown to be given to tourism businesses and our supply chain, not only to allow for the necessary timeframe to plan for reopening, but to protect the many thousands of jobs which are at risk,” said Crothall.

“Today’s announcement will offer some very much needed light at the end of what has been the darkest tunnel for our industry.”