By Scott Wright

DIRECT cash subsidies must be provided by Government to ensure tens of thousands of Scottish tourism and hospitality jobs can be saved as the fall-out from the coronavirus crisis deepens, a leading industry figure and hotelier has implored.

Stephen Leckie, chairman of the Scottish Tourism Alliance and owner of the Crieff Hydro group, called for radical action as businesses across the country desperately slash costs to preserve jobs after seeing trade wiped out by the pandemic.

It comes as concern grows that support packages offered by the UK and Scottish Governments are not enough to save businesses, or coming into effect quickly enough.

Glasgow Chamber of Commerce last night called for a three-month waiver of all payroll taxes and VAT bills and a direct employment subsidy of at least £10,000 for each employee for SMEs and larger companies in key sectors.

Increasing numbers of hotels, bars and restaurants are taking the decision to temporarily suspend trading following government advice for people to avoid all non-essential travel. These include the Auchrannie Resort on Arran and west of Scotland-based Manorview Hotels, as well as the seven bars and restaurants owned by entrepreneur Oli Norman in Glasgow.

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Mr Leckie said his own company, which employs around 1,000 staff, is currently going through the “harrowing process” of reviewing costs as the business battles for survival. He said the situation facing Crieff is reflected right across the tourism industry in Scotland, which until the outbreak employed around 230,000 people.

Mr Leckie said the industry welcomed the extension of business rates relief announced by the Scottish Government on Wednesday.

But he said that only direct cash support would help companies survive.

Mr Leckie told The Herald: “The speed of this coronavirus is taking us all by surprise. We are looking at closures daily. As each hour goes by there is no end in sight.

“We’re asking the Government to look at helping us as we are feeling the pain with our payroll. If we can remain open, and somehow get help to stay open, then Scotland stays open for business.

"You pass the car crash on the motorway, and you pick up speed quickly gain. If you close it is a bit more difficult to pick up speed again. We also acknowledge that if we have an outbreak in any one of our businesses then we will have to close.”

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Asked if the industry was looking for direct subsidy from Government, he replied: “It has to be. That is the only thing we believe will help us.

He held out the hope that the social distancing advice issues by the government this week, which will see schools in Scotland close from Friday, will help the industry make something of the peak summer season. Mr Leckie said: “That’s when a lot tourism businesses make their money. If we don’t make our money in July and August, then we are looking at failure, just closure. Game over.

“We’re taking deep cuts, failing the pain right now to try and preserve that.”

Scottish-based tour companies have been forced to cancel or postpone huge numbers of holidays as the crisis has erupted. Glasgow-based Macs Adventure, which sells active holidays to destinations around the world, would normally expect to be taking £100,000 of bookings per day at this time of year. But founder and chief executive Neil Lapping said forward bookings have fallen to zero.

He said: “There is no enquiries, no leads, and it is understandable. We have postponed or tried to get people to cancel or delay all our bookings to the end of April – that’s £1.8m of bookings gone. The vast majority of people are choosing to delay or get credit, so our customers understand the position we are in, they are still keen to travel, but it means our profit and loss for April will be zero.”

Mr Lapping, whose firm employs around 70 staff, questioned the move by Government to offer loans to businesses affected by the crisis, saying that strategy is “not helping us to preserve jobs in any way.”

And he fears for the future of the many small suppliers his company deals with, such as small hotels, B&Bs and taxi companies, around Scotland, saying their future could become “untenable” if they lose the crucial months of June, July and August.