THE last few weeks have presented little opportunity to pause for very long; the Scottish Ttourism Alliance has been working in crisis mode on behalf of the industry since the beginning of March, however, I have had moments to reflect on the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with tourism businesses and build a picture of what the ‘new normal’ for our industry might look like.

Not so very long ago, before our overarching message focused around the almost overnight collapse of our industry, our dialogue was built around one consistent theme – the fragile state of our tourism industry.

As the representative body for tourism businesses in Scotland, our time was spent campaigning to remove barriers to sustainable growth; supporting the UK tourism industry’s call for a reduction in tourism VAT to rates that our competitors enjoy, highlighting the amount of regulation the industry has had to contend with, the rising costs of doing businesses over many years, Brexit and migration proposals which threatened to cut off a vital part of our workforce and of course the additional levies that had started to creep into our landscape.

That was our ‘perfect storm of rising costs’ period. This was something that every tourism business experienced and the STA created a platform for productive discussions with governments and policy makers to create an environment where tourism could do better.

By better, I mean a business being able to pay and reward staff properly, meet the cost of their overheads, invest in creating a quality product, service and experience, support the supply chain and go a step beyond running just to stand still.

This is our ‘we have no more reserves’ period. Without more immediate and continued support throughout the next six to nine months, hundreds of businesses will close for good and our tourism product will be significantly weakened.

Looking beyond the reality of the immediate crisis, should these businesses and indeed our industry survive, what will our new normal look like?

We know that social distancing is likely to be part of our lives for a long time, which has a direct impact on quantity; the number of people in a restaurant, bar, hotel, coach, plane, ferry, visitor attraction, event and so on.

Quantity and availability gave us cheap air travel, discount hotel rooms and margin squeezing ways of doing business to attract customers. But, quantity and quality rarely go in hand.

For years our industry has suffered an image problem thanks to the stereotype of a low skilled, poorly paid workforce, a discount culture that attracts volume, costs that force our businesses to compromise on quality, inability to pay suppliers what they deserve and little room for investment.

Change had to happen. Quantity has gone, so we must look to deliver a quality tourism product and experience that comes at a fair and balanced price – one that does not cost us our integrity or ambition. We are a very long way from that at the moment, in every way.

Looking to the future, everything we took for granted in our tourism experiences, whether it’s a weekend away, a day trip or a two week holiday will become more special to us; connecting with the local culture and storytelling, really getting to understand the heart of a destination – spending more time discovering, less time passing through, viewing our choice of restaurant, destination and experience through the camera of a smartphone.

Future tourism experiences will become more about human connection. While we miss our freedom to explore, discover, learn and have fun, I have a feeling that our need to slow down and be more mindful will allow us to appreciate quality tourism experiences through people and place in a much deeper and more meaningful, memorable way.

Marc Crothall is the chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance