By Marc Crothall

AUGUST for me is punctuated by an almost palpable feeling of fresh starts and new beginnings, as I watch three of my children leave the house each day in earnest to embark upon these first few weeks of a new term at school. The change in the light during the day and the arrival of darkness earlier in the evening signifies the end of our summer season in Scotland and a warm anticipation of the golden weeks of autumn that lie ahead.

This year of course feels very different for us all; a mixture of hope underpinned with anxiety as we move out of our seasonal window of opportunity and into what will almost certainly be a more challenging time for tourism businesses all over Scotland. The lifeline of government support in the form of furlough, grants and the Eat Out to Help Out lifeline for the hospitality industry will come to an end soon; the flow of visitors will decline.

We can only hope that Covid can be suppressed and that the freedoms we have all enjoyed in recent weeks will continue and indeed be increased. It seems more likely however that we will continue to proceed with caution and will always be required to be ready to adapt quickly.

There is no doubt that government financial support has been a critical factor in keeping the majority of our tourism industry afloat over the last five months but with many aspects of that coming to an end, it is now more important than ever to look at new ways of doing things, to find better solutions to new problems, innovate and create and most importantly adapt to survive.

There are no quick and easy answers; the impact of the virus from both a public health and an economy perspective weighs heavily on each of us every day in many different ways. It is there all the time.

It is hard to switch to ‘blue sky thinking’ and have clear, fresh ideas with such an ever-present grey cloud but switch we must, as many of the tools to aid our recovery lie in an area outside our comfort zone and areas of knowledge in expertise – technology.

Last week saw the launch of a new cluster organisation which will support economic recovery and create new opportunities for businesses such as digital tour operators, online booking providers and contactless services for maintaining social distancing and

trip planning services. Traveltech for Scotland will build a support network for travel technology providers to collaborate, foster a community of entrepreneurs and promote industry events.

The priority for the group is to meet the urgent needs of tourism businesses and help them restart and recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic. Its longer-term vision is for a bolder adoption and application of traveltech to lead the way to a cleaner, greener and more inclusive Scotland.

The good news is there’s already a strong appetite for this. Interface, a Scotland-wide organisation organisation which matches businesses to academic expertise, recently launched the Adopt a Business initiative, matching over 80 tourism businesses; the highest percentage of matches was for digital development.

The launch of Traveltech for Scotland marks a vital step forward in providing Scotland’s tourism businesses access to new technology solutions which will build customers’ trust around virus control and safety and ultimately offer reassurance that challenges can be overcome to aid a sustainable recovery for the industry and, I hope, put Scotland on the map as a leading destination for travel technology.

This is a pivotal moment in our recovery as we move beyond the bail out, bringing our digital and tourism economies together to help our sector to adapt, modernise and build sustainability, innovation and resilience for the future.

Marc Crothall is the chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance