By Scott Wright

CHANGES to valued added tax (VAT) and Air Passenger Duty (APD) should be considered to help kick-start the tourism industry as it emerges from lockdown.

Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland, highlighted the opportunity to be “creative” with existing legislation when asked yesterday for ideas that could feed into Scotland’s new advisory group on economic recovery. The group, chaired by veteran banker Benny Higgins, was set up last month to provide advice to the Scottish Government to inform the recovery from the pandemic.

Speaking during a Glasgow Chamber of Commerce Covid-19 webinar yesterday, Mr Roughead said that “you could certainly stimulate competitiveness” through VAT given that, at 20 per cent, the UK is one of the highest-rated for VAT in Europe.

He also suggested “getting creative on APD... to motivate the airlines to see Scotland as a viable destination in terms of profitability.”

“You can actually zero-rate it,” he said.

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Despite the current freeze on travel, Mr Roughead said demand for visiting Scotland internationally remains strong. He noted that VisitScotland was using digital channels and social media, under its “dream now travel later” strapline, “to keep people motivated around Scotland, so that when they travel, Scotland will be top of mind”.

In a wide-ranging talk, Mr Roughead spoke of the difficult task of ensuring as many businesses as possible get the “other side” of the crisis, while addressing the challenges tourist-facing firms will face when easing out of the lockdown.

Mr Roughead said emerging from the lockdown will be a “slow burn” and emphasised the role of the domestic market in the recovery. He envisaged the lockdown opening with people being able to see family and friends first, before trips the countryside, coastal areas and parks are allowed. Short and long-haul travel will then come back “if confidence returns”.