THE two-year Brexit transition proposed by Prime Minister Theresa May is not long enough to ensure the Scottish tourism sector can access the skills it needs by the time the UK exits the European Union, a leading industry figure has claimed.

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA), made the claim as a survey by his organisation revealed nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of tourism businesses said they were confident about their trading prospects between now and 2020. Confidence was found to have been fuelled in part to the fall in sterling since the Brexit vote, which has made Scotland more financially competitive as a visitor destination.

However Mr Crothall emphasised the aggregate confidence score conceals differing views held across the sector, with the survey showing considerably more confidence among self-catering accommodation providers and tourist attractions than among hotel, pub and bar owners.

And he noted the report highlights deep concern within the industry about the effects of Brexit, including the sector’s ability to retain the skills it needs.

Mr Crothall, who will present the survey at the STA’s annual conference this morning, said the two-year Brexit transition proposed recently by Mrs May is not long enough for the industry. He said a 10-year transition is required to ensure the industry meets the current shortfall in staff it faces as well as to combat the loss of employees when freedom of movement across the European Union ends.

“Two years is just not going to be long enough to allow us to get a good, experienced, mature workforce in play,” Mr Crothall said.

“We already have an insufficient number of people working in our industry to service the demand we have.

“Any risk of us having to lose or see a further decline in an international workforce is a great worry, because the gap to be able to skill a workforce to replace those people is large, and it will take some time.”

The STA survey, which will be unveiled at Royal Bank of Scotland’s Gogarburn conference centre in Edinburgh, found that 81 per cent of self-catering accommodation providers are “very or quite confident” about their prospects, with 73 per cent of visitor attractions expressing similar sentiment. However, the proportion of businesses describing themselves as “very or quite confident” dropped for 44 per cent of hotels and 41 per cent for pubs and restaurants. “Was I surprised at the variation? Absolutely not,” Mr Crothall said. “We’ve been hearing from the hotel community that, whilst it has been busy, there are concerns around what lies ahead in terms of rising costs and doing business.”

The survey found one in six Scottish tourism businesses lack confidence in their outlook, with uncertainty over Brexit and its effect on staffing levels, regulations and exchange rates reported as particular concerns. Some expressed uncertainty over the prospect of a second referendum on Scottish independence.

As well as political concerns, those feeling unconfident about their prospects cited rising costs on a range of fronts. These range from staff costs as a result of pension provision, the National Living Wage and the Apprenticeship Levy, to the rising cost of food, drink and utilities.

The survey found the industry was taking confidence from the favourable exchange rates overseas visitors to Scotland have been able to enjoy since the pound’s post-Brexit vote collapse, alongside the growth of individual companies in the last two years and repeat business levels.

But Mr Crothall said the weak pound “works both ways”, with current exchange rates not only driving up the cost of food and drink “significantly”, but making Scotland less attractive for European some workers. “The buoyancy of visitor numbers sparked by international visitation is obviously good,” Mr Crothall added. “International visitors spend more, but increasingly we are hearing – and it’s been told by some of the responses we have had – that the UK visitor has less to spend. And their holiday habits have changed, moving away from longer hotel stays and opting for self-catering and trips out to see the attractions.”

Mr Crothall also said there is a concern in the tourism industry that pressure on UK household budgets because of falling earnings and rising inflation, in addition to the rising cost of holidays abroad, is hitting domestic tourism in the so-called “shoulder months”.

He added: “For a lot of our industry, particularly those that operate in more rural parts, that out of high season trade is essential. If that dips then that’s where we will have some serious problems for businesses to be able to invest.”