HOSPITALITY outlets in rural Scotland outperformed their urban peers for the first time over the key Christmas trading period, a closely-watched survey has found, writes Scott Wright.

Fifty per cent of rural operators said trading was stable at Christmas and New Year, with 33 per cent showing growth, the survey from the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) found.

The findings appear to underline a reversal of fortunes for licensed outlets in rural areas, which along with golf clubs saw a sharp downturn in trade after drink driving laws were tightened in late 2014.

The report found nearly two-thirds (64%) of hospitality businesses across the board were in growth or were stable over the period.

However, nearly half (47%) said Brexit uncertainty has had a negative impact on business. None reported a positive effect from the political situation.

More than one-fifth (22%) reported “significant” year on year growth, found the SLTA’s annual On-trade Christmas/ New Year Market Review. The survey, sponsored by KPMG, compiled the views of 500 businesses across Scotland.

Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the SLTA, said: “2018 was a buoyant year for the sector with the World Cup and a hot summer, so it is encouraging to see that so many of our member retailers performed well at Christmas and New Year and throughout 2019. Overall, 64% of respondents had businesses which were growing or stable, and this number grew to 75% at Christmas and New Year – with 22% of businesses reporting a significant ‘over 10% growth’ year-on-year.”

He added: “We are delighted to see so many retailers improve their offers for consumers, utilise digital media, and continue to create more employment in the tourism and hospitality sectors.

SLTA members, meanwhile, underlined worries over the “onslaught” of legislation. Mr Wilkinson added: “Our survey also flagged up concerns about changes to rates and employment costs and the current political climate with 47% of respondents saying it had a negative impact on their business, while there were zero retailers who had seen a positive impact.”