THIS summer, our family did something which we would probably have thought highly unlikely had it been suggested to us at the start of the year. We spent our two-week holiday in Scotland.

Like many people around the UK, we hooked up to the staycation bandwagon, and spent a fortnight touring some of the most beautiful locations Scotland has to offer, taking in the Isle of Skye, Sutherland, and Orkney.

Without wishing to sound pompous, our decision was partly driven by a sense of duty and a desire to make a very modest contribution to the domestic economy, which is suffering desperately because of the fall-out from coronavirus.

But it was also driven by more selfish reasons: we badly wanted to get away after months in lockdown, and found that the stubborn virus continues to make it more difficult to travel overseas, as people hoping to holiday in Spain have found this week.

And I have to say that not only do we have no regrets over the decision, it left us with a thirst to explore more of what Scotland has to offer. Few countries can compete with its natural beauty, and we were welcomed warmly everywhere we went.

It should be noted, though, that this was far from a typical vacation, as holidaymakers around the UK will be discovering for themselves now. The legacy of coronavirus is everywhere you care to look.

Although we had made a conscious decision to visit locations that we felt would be reasonably quiet, we were still surprised to find so few tourists on our travels.

Granted, the tourism industry was only just beginning to emerge from mothballs after months in lockdown, but the volume of closed hotels, bed and breakfasts and tourist attractions did catch us off guard, particularly given the huge wave of optimism which followed news that the industry would be reopening.

On Skye, for example, there was a procession of “no vacancies” signs outside the many guesthouses that line the road into Portree.

Our initial thought was that the much hoped for staycation upsurge had well and truly arrived, and that these hotels were fully booked, but the lack of tourists around the town as a whole belied that assumption. We wondered if these businesses had simply decided to not reopen.

“Are you enjoying having Portree to yourselves?” one retailer asked as we browsed the shelves, before happily reporting that online sales had given his business a real lifeline during lockdown.

It was not only in Portree that the absence of tourists was noticeable. There were few cars on the roads around the island, and few people parked at well-known tourist hot-spots, whether it was at the foot of famous Quiraing Walk or the look-out to Kilt Rock. Some of the big attractions were still closed to the public, including Dunvegan Castle, a theme which would come to define our holiday.

As we later discovered when we arrived on Orkney, the owners of many small tourism businesses have decided not to reopen this year.

For many of those concerned, it simply does not make financial sense to make the necessary commitment to gear up to open when there is so little of the season left.

It takes a lot of upfront investment in staff and stocking up for a hotel to open at the best of times, and of course this year the costs are even higher because enhanced cleaning regimes and systems must be put in place to protect guests and staff.

Set that against the reduced operating capacities businesses have to trade with to comply with social distancing, then it is little wonder some firms have elected to batten down the hatches until next year, when it is hoped the outlook will be a lot brighter.

That the anticipated staycation surge has still to materialise is all too real for the Scottish Tourism Alliance, which has fought tirelessly for the industry to be supported by government since the crisis erupted.

Writing in The Herald earlier this week, STA chief executive Marc Crothall signalled that the optimism that met news of the industry’s reopening was not yet matched by the experience on the ground.

“The reality is different to what we had all imagined,” Mr Crothall wrote.

“We knew that the road to recovery would be long, slow and painful, but we had not anticipated the length of time we would continue to be merely in the foothills of the recovery.”

The long and arduous nature of the recovery will naturally heighten fears that there will be more job letting and business failure in the industry, where several major hotel firms have already been consulting on major redundancy programmes.

With consumer confidence still extremely fragile, given the grim outlook for the economy, and the prospect of continuing restrictions over international travel amid spikes in infections in some European countries, few would surely hold out hope for any significant recovery this year.

In that regard, it was encouraging to see that the Scottish Government has listened to those concerns, and responded with the announcement of further grants for tourism businesses yesterday.

But at the same time it should also be acknowledged that certain businesses and communities in Scotland continue to be fearful of being over-run by tourists while the recovery from the virus remains precarious.

One retailer in Kirkwall told me she was actually relieved that the town would not be inundated as it usually is in summer by tourists disembarking from major cruise liners. Her business has put impressive systems in place in to safeguard customers and staff, as many around Scotland have, but it is still very early days for that new regime.

It will take time for everyone to get used to operating in a Covid world, so her wish to be given breathing space to get used to that reality when fewer customers are around is entirely understandable.

At the same time, communities in remote parts of the country continue to request that tourists stay away this year, amid fears that a spike in virus cases could put already meagre health service resources under intolerable pressure.

We were conscious of this sentiment as we toured, and did our best to observe social distancing and respect the position of the people we met, while spending some money in their local economies.

It is a tricky balancing act which in some ways sums up the difficult situation the tourism industry has found itself in, through no fault of its own.