THE Scottish tourism industry would justifiably have been allowed to sense some light at the end of the tunnel when a provisional reopening date of July 15 was set earlier this month.

After being thrown into its worst crisis in living memory, which has cast into doubt the existence of thousands of businesses, there was suddenly a prospect of travel restarting and revenue flowing into hollowed-out coffers. But although a reopening date is now in the calendar, it has become abundantly clear that the path ahead for the industry will be far from straightforward, be that for tourists or the many businesses looking forward to welcoming them.

Certainly, anyone striving to book a holiday in Scotland right now faces the prospect of plotting their way through a minefield of mixed messages.

On the one hand, the need to support the domestic tourism industry has never been more urgent. The lockdown imposed in March to halt the spread of the coronavirus has been devastating for a sector robbed of its ability to trade, sparking a wave of redundancies which many fear is only really just getting into full swing.

Indeed, it is anticipated that the full extent of the impact on jobs will only become apparent in the coming weeks, as the support provided by the government furlough scheme is wound down. That has led to calls for the scheme to remain in place longer for certain sectors, notably hospitality and tourism, which face the longest wait to return to full capacity.

In ‘normal’ times, it would be expected that the tourism industry would be eager to welcome as many guests as possible after such a protracted hiatus. But these are far from normal times, of course.

When they do open in July, hotels will have to function at greatly reduced trading capacities because of social distancing measures, having in many cases had to invest in their outlets to support this requirement. And that means their ability to recoup lost trade will be restricted for the foreseeable future. That could change to some extent should the two-metre social distancing rule be reduced to one in Scotland, as is now expected to happen in England.

Some tourist destinations in Scotland seem to be hamstrung by their locations. As revealed in The Herald, there are increasing fears on the Isle of Arran that its tourism industry will be unable to take advantage of the industry reopening because ferry services are greatly constrained.

While up to 4,000 people normally travel to and from the island, one of Scotland’s most popular visitor locations, per day in July and August, the current capacity has been reduced to about 400 under emergency arrangements introduced by CalMac in response to the pandemic.

The Arran Ferry Action Group declared the reduced capacity is “potentially catastrophic for the island economy”; CalMac says it has simply followed the guidelines set by the Scottish Government at all stages of the Covid-19 response.

At the same time, consumers are being told to be sensitive when it comes to picking where to travel to in Scotland. Fears persist in certain communities that holidaymakers could bring the coronavirus with them, and heap unsustainable pressure on already limited NHS resources in turn.

It is a point emphasised last week by Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland, who said it was important for communities in tourist areas across Scotland to “feel secure” amid the expected surge in staycations this summer. “The worst thing we can do is open the floodgates and get a negative reaction,” he said.

That tension between welcoming tourists back and ensuring communities are not overwhelmed is illustrated by the North Coast 500, the hugely popular road-trip across the Highlands and Islands.

While its executive chairman, Tom Campbell, believes the expected surge in staycations could fuel the continued success of the route, as well as sustain the businesses and communities it passes through, a survey found 94 per cent of residents felt there had not been sufficient effort put into alleviating its negative impacts. More than 90% said roads have been adversely affected, and around 80% were unhappy about the effect on public toilets.

Of course, NC500 is just one of many tourist attractions in Scotland. But the debate around it offers a useful illustration of the difficulties the tourism industry faces as it emerges from lockdown.