VACATION OR STAYCATION THIS SUMMER?
After weeks of lockdown it was a great surprise to hear that one of the main concerns vexing Scots at the moment is where, when, or indeed if, they will be able to take a summer holiday this year. With spiralling debt, galloping unemployment and economic meltdown, it seemed like the last thing people would have been worried about. It sounds very much like a first world dilemma, but according to some of Scotland’s key consumer advice agencies, the main complaints they have received in recent weeks have been about travel confusion and cancelled holiday plans.
In most foreign holiday destinations, hotels, pubs, cafes and bistros, remain closed or under severe social-distancing restrictions. In any case, with airports virtually moribund and fleets of aircraft grounded, the prospect for foreign trips are remote and in fact, many countries have even closed their borders and no-one seems to know when they will re-open. The Foreign Office still advises against all non-essential overseas travel for an unlimited period, with no hint when that might change and now there will be an enforced two-week quarantine period for arrivals from any country except Ireland or France.
Governments around the world don’t want to see the coronavirus pandemic re-kindled by a rush to the beaches, so the prospects for sitting on deckchairs enjoying sun and Sangria in Spain, or olives and Ouzo in Greece, sound unlikely. The Spanish labour minister has hacked off Spain’s tourist sector by stating that leisure and cultural activities will have to remain closed until the end of the year. In Greece, there is talk of a gradual re-opening of tourism based on people having to provide health-passports that prove they are free of Covid-19. Meanwhile, Germany’s foreign minister has said that it would not be "responsible" to have a "normal vacation season this summer" and Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said his plans for tourism will be to tell Italians to “go on vacation in Italy.”
The Italian PM’s staycation advice is worth listening to. In Scotland we have some of the most fabulous holiday destinations in the world and after the lockdown, our tourist sector needs every penny we can afford to spend, so when the crisis ends or eases a little, why not holiday in Scotland? Until the Covid-19 crisis, tourism was one of Scotland’s major growth industries, with more than 14,000 businesses pumping over £4 billion into the Scottish economy every year and estimates of over 200,000 people directly or indirectly employed in the sector. All of that ground to a halt in mid-March.
Scotland’s natural environment, our mountains, hills, lochs and rivers are the key attraction for visitors. But our rich history, ancient cities, castles battle grounds and golf courses, are a magnet for tourists too. Scotland is seen internationally as the home of golf and the place to come for great food and whisky, as well as being a paradise for anglers, hillwalkers and trekkers. Iconic TV shows like ‘Outlander’, have fuelled an enormous growth in visitors to Scottish sites portrayed on screen. According to Historic Scotland, visitors to Doune Castle near Stirling, which featured as Castle Leoch in the series, increased by over 38,000 last year due to the ‘Outlander effect’. Now, only locals from the village of Doune can wander around the castle grounds for their one-hour daily lockdown exercise. The impact on the castle itself and on all of the small businesses in Doune who benefited from this influx of visitors is enormous. But even that pales when compared to the cancellation of the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe, for the first time in its 73-year history. Edinburgh hosts more than 5,000 events every August during the festival and welcomes over four and half million visitors. The economic blow to the city will be incalculable.
Even after the lockdown begins to ease, people are still going to be nervous about flying. The thought of having to spend up to four hours at an airport before boarding your flight, while you are subjected to social-distancing, health checks, security controls and searches, is likely to deter even the hardiest travellers from heading abroad this year. The same will apply to inbound tourists who annually flock to Scotland. Their numbers will dwindle to a trickle. That’s why we have to put a big emphasis on developing domestic tourism. There are loads of places to discover. How many times have you heard someone say that visitors to Scotland often see more of the country than those of us who live here? Well the coronavirus crisis has given us the chance to find out what we’ve been missing.
With European solidarity crumbling during the pandemic and EU Member States unilaterally introducing their own travel restrictions, the overall picture has become chaotic and will continue to be so as the controls are lifted in a piecemeal fashion. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has advised people against booking summer holidays, saying enigmatically that only “smart solutions” would enable such vacations. The smart solution in Scotland would be to take your holiday here and help re-boot our beleaguered tourist sector.
Social distancing is likely to continue for many months and that will mean shops, pubs, restaurants, theatres and cinemas operating schemes that keep people at least two metres apart. Many of our tourist businesses are small companies, often only with a handful of employees and relying on seasonal workers. Maintaining social distancing will have an appalling impact on their profitability and the only way to try to offset that shortfall will be through government support and increased domestic tourism.
Our great hotels, inns, pubs, restaurants, B&Bs, self-catering holiday cottages, campsites and caravan parks are ready and waiting to welcome you. Scotland’s beautiful islands, some of whom were complaining last year about an over-abundance of tourists, will roll out the red carpet for your visit. Our magnificent countryside and bustling villages, towns and cities are willing you to come. Britain’s one-hundred-year-old national hero, Captain Tom Moore, famously said: “For all those finding it difficult: the sun will shine on you again and the clouds will go away”. When the Covid-19 clouds go away later this year and the sun breaks through, let’s celebrate life by taking our holidays in Scotland.