• Sonny Neil

How the pandemic has impacted Scottish Tourism

Covid-19 has had a severe impact on the tourism industry, but is there light at the end of the tunnel?

As Scotland gradually eases itself out of lockdown and the nation breathes a sigh of relief, the ramifications of the pandemic are still being felt, the tourism industry in particular suffering greatly since March of last year.

Figures released at the end of April this year showcase this damage first-hand. Data from the Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism at Glasgow Caledonian University reported that visitor numbers dropped by almost 34 million in 2020, a devastating 63.2% decrease, with 153 sites closed for the full 12 months.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh Castle - Scotland's busiest paid-for attraction in 2019 - saw visitor numbers drop by 87.2% with figures for Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, in Glasgow, and the National Museum of Scotland falling 85.8% and 79.9% respectively.

While outdoor areas performed significantly better, they too were not immune to the effects of Covid-19. Edinburgh Zoo for example - Scotlands busiest paid for site in 2020 - experienced a visitor drop off around 46.4% compared to the previous 12 months.

Professor John Lennon, Director of the Moffat Centre at GCU, said: "The impact of COVID-19 was felt across all aspects of the Scottish visitor attractions sector as travel was restricted, the international market collapsed and the wider economy was impacted.

“Attractions are an essential element of the Scottish visitor experience. With international tourism unlikely to return until well into 2022, domestic visitors will provide the sole source of income. Their custom will be vital going forward.”

The survey, conducted in April, revealed that one in eight sites will remain closed for all of 2021 without a further easing of coronavirus restrictions. Industry leaders have warned many smaller attractions are at risk of closing for good without ongoing financial support from the UK and Scottish Governments.

Gordon Morrison, ASVA Chief Executive, said: “​Whilst the majority of attractions are reopening from this week onward, it’s extremely concerning that so many sites feel it’s not viable for them to open fully, or even at all this year, due to continuing restrictions.

However, things have changed significantly since the release of the report. As of the 17th of May, Scotland will see a further easing of lockdown restrictions allowing various indoor venues such as concert halls and theatres to reopen their doors. Furthermore, pubs and restaurants will once again be able to serve alcohol indoors up to 22:30 in the evening. A traffic light system will also be put in place in regards to international travel.

“The First Minister’s announcement today that mainland Scotland, with the possible exception of Moray, will move to level 2 on Monday will be a welcome boost for our tourism sector, particularly businesses in our island communities which I know will be delighted at the news that they will move to Level 1, albeit with the capacity restrictions on ferries limiting the number of people who can travel there.

"The return of indoor hospitality with alcohol will allow our hospitality businesses to hopefully start to recoup some of the significant losses incurred by being able to offer the very essence of the experience that has been missing for so long and to trade more viably despite the physical distancing restrictions which remain in place, however, I am sure that many will be heartened to learn today that this is currently under review and that the conclusions will be shared at the next review point."

While these are positive steps, there are still concerns regarding physical distancing which, while required in public spaces such as pubs and restaurants, will not be a neccessity in peoples homes, a fact that SLTA managing director Colin Wilkinson has commented on: “We need clarity on this as soon as possible as hospitality businesses operating small premises are simply not viable with physical distancing in place.

“This reaffirms the stark reality of the challenges facing the licensed trade in that we’re a long way from fully reopening despite the positivity of today’s announcement. And bear in mind that the late-night hospitality industry, including nightclubs, remains in meltdown with no indication of when it can start to welcome back customers.

While positive steps have been made when it comes to kickstarting the tourism industry, it is evident that there is still a long way to go before things truly return to a state of normality.

As lockdown continues to ease be sure to stay tuned for more some exciting features and stories as we gear up to launch Taste Magazine here in Scotland were we will highlight some tremendous food, drink and places to visit. Be sure to check out the Taste Magazine website here