Looking back on 60 years of seismic shifts in Scottish hospitality

A lot has changed in hospitality since SLTN entered the fray back in 1964. But what do industry figures regard as the single biggest upheaval they’ve seen during their time in the sector?

Edrington UK sales director Andrew Morrison reckoned that venues’ growing focus on technology, in both marketing and delivery, marked a real departure from years gone by.

“Social media has emerged as a key influencer, shaping an establishment’s reputation and success through online reviews and visually appealing content,” noted Andrew. 

Gillian Murray, on trade director – Scotland for C&C Group, agreed that modern operators had to be ‘extremely agile and move with pace’ to balance legislative requirements with customer wants and needs. 

Gillian Murray

“In my time there has been the implementation of smoking bans, leading to outdoor space innovation; drink driving legislation changes which meant more emphasis on no and low as a category; a potential deposit return scheme and what that could mean to operations within outlet; duty reforms; and dare I mention Covid and the various altering restrictions that were in place over the period,” recalled Gillian. 

Paul Wishart, national operations manager – Scotland for Belhaven & Greene King Pub Partners, said that the Covid-19 pandemic was indisputably the most seismic event for the trade that he’d witnessed: “Over the years in hospitality there would always be challenges to overcome but this was the first time when our key objective was to ensure the very survival of our leased and tenanted pubs. 

Paul Wishart

“Looking back now, it’s something I feel a great amount of pride for how hospitality stepped up and coped with it. It was a moment when pubs really cemented their position in communities.”

Chris Wayne-Wills, CEO of Crerar Hotel Group, agreed that the pandemic had ‘reshaped the very fabric of travel and hospitality’, transforming the way people perceive and approach their leisure time.

Chris Wayne-Wills

“Lockdowns and travel restrictions prompted a remarkable surge in staycations. This shift wasn’t merely a response to limitations but also a re-evaluation of local destinations and suddenly guests sought nearby experiences, keen to discover the beauty of their own towns and cities.

“Technology has also been a game-changer, and the pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital platforms and tools. Our focus on digital output has intensified, enabling us to connect with guests in new ways,” said Chris.

On a very practical note, Payfacto cited the massive shift towards customers using card payments instead of cash over the last 10 years.

Stephen O’Hagan, key customer manager at Heineken, reckoned that many of these factors had led towards the ‘premiumisation of nights out’.

“We have seen drinkers reduce how often they go out, but they are spending more when they do. Consumers are looking to create memorable experiences through trade up options.”

With those decades of change behind us, how strong a position is the Scottish hospitality industry in as we contemplate what is yet to come?

Morrison at Edrington UK was emphatic: “The Scottish hospitality industry is robust and strong. Despite challenges, there’s a resilient spirit across the sector. Continued collaboration, innovation, and a commitment to quality will undoubtedly contribute to the industry’s strength and recovery.”

Customer development executive at Heineken, Garry Forbes, said: “Post pandemic, we have seen operators across Scotland jump into action and upgrade their offering.”

C&C’s Murray said: “The operators know their customers in Scotland  which is the sector’s biggest strength and means that despite the many challenges they need to overcome, they continue to give customers a compelling reason to visit outlets.”

Green King’s Wishart said: “I always like to take a glass-half-full approach. 

“We are still in a really difficult situation and it’s crucial the Scottish Government address issues that are currently holding back pubs in Scotland, for example around business rates and potential alcohol marketing restrictions. 

“If these can be overcome then I do believe the hospitality industry can go from strength to strength. 

Wayne-Wills at Crerar concluded: “The Scottish hospitality industry holds incredible potential, yet it faces its fair share of challenges – particularly in recruitment. 

“A shortage of skilled staff poses a significant hurdle, so we must address this by attracting and retaining talent.

“While the recent Scottish Budget wasn’t particularly relevant to businesses, we still need to see more targeted measures and financial aid specifically tailored for the hospitality sector from both the Scottish and UK Governments. 

“It’s not just about short-term relief; it’s about laying the groundwork for long-term sustainability and growth.”