Blair Castle has moved to extend its opening season after an early autumn surge in staycation bookings.

The castle, described as one of Scotland’s most famous visitor destinations, has decided to extend its opening season beyond its traditional closing date in October.

For the first time, subject to ongoing government guidance, the castle will remain open for guided tours until mid-December and it said that motorhome touring pitches in its caravan park will now also be available to book until the end of the year.

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The estate has seen its summer holiday months extended well into the autumn, with bookings for self-catering accommodation over September and October up 15% on previous years and motorhome bookings in the caravan park rising 23%, which it said reflects the increasing popularity of touring holidays in the Cairngorms National Park. 

HeraldScotland:

Blair Castle is now also seeing the impact on bookings for November and December as "travellers exchange winter sun for stress-free pre-Christmas family getaways in a Covid-safe environment".

It said accommodation and venues across the estate have been effectively implementing Covid secure policies, being some of the first to achieve “We’re Good To Go” status. The official accreditation signals that the estate has followed government guidance and has a C proceovidss in place to maintain cleanliness and aid social distancing.  

Chloe Thornton, marketing officer for the estate, said: "It is the simplicity of a holiday with family, surrounded by nature, that is driving enquiries for winter holidays. The confidence that travel arrangements won’t be disrupted and that high standards of cleanliness will be enforced is the perfect solution for families looking for ways to grab some time away together prior to Christmas.    

“The holiday season has already spilled over into autumn, the perfect time to travel safely to Highland Perthshire for a well-earned break. The colours across the estate at this time of year are spectacular. That, combined with the reassurance we can offer, means we are potentially now seeing a new season of winter family holidays. The charms of a crisp winter landscapes and brisk morning walks are there to be discovered.”

Blair Castle and its estate offers a range of pet-friendly accommodation including static caravans and historic highland lodges.

Upper Crust and Caffe Ritazza owner SSP has said nearly two-thirds of its sites still remain closed as it revealed a sales hit of around £1.3 billion because of the pandemic.

The group said it has reopened around 1,100 outlets since lockdown, which decimated trading at its food and drinks sites in airports and railway stations as passengers numbers plunged.

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SSP said sales are set to plummet by around 86% in its second half to September 30, with revenues down about £1.3 billion, while operating losses will be in the middle of its predicted £180 million to £250 million range.

The group recently warned that up to around 5,000 jobs are under threat - more than half of its 9,000-strong peak season workforce - as it looks to slash costs in response to the pandemic.

It had warned that only around a fifth of its sites in the UK would open by the autumn, but it has been able to reopen more sites as sales have improved slightly since full lockdown restrictions eased.

A slight improvement in passenger demand has seen weekly sales declines narrow to around 76% from 95% in its third quarter, it said.

In the UK, it said there had been a small recovery in air travel, although it was held back by ever-changing quarantine restrictions, while rail travel remained very weak with a slow recovery as workers tentatively returned to offices.

The latest restrictions brought in on Tuesday by the Prime Minister, including instructions for office staff to work from home where they can, are likely to deal another blow.

SSP cautioned that demand "may well remain subdued" over the winter months.
Simon Smith, chief executive of SSP Group, said: "We have seen some improvement in passenger demand since the start of the crisis and we have reopened units swiftly and profitably in response to this, with over one-third of our units now trading.

"Our model is flexible and we will continue to align unit openings with demand, meeting the needs of our customers whilst managing operating costs and cash flow tightly.

"In the medium term we expect to see the gradual return of passenger travel to more normalised levels.

"The actions we are taking to rebuild the business will enable us to emerge fitter and stronger."

One of the suitors that was hoping to take over breakdown business AA has withdrawn from the race three weeks after a deadline for bids was extended.

Platinum Equity said that it had walked away from discussions with AA's board "by mutual agreement."

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It follows months of speculation over the future of the business after it announced talks with three potential bidders in early August.

However, finding a buyer from the trio proved harder than first hoped, and earlier this month a deadline set by the UK's Takeover Panel passed without any bids arriving.

It forced AA to ask for an extension, with the new deadline set at September 29.
In a statement on Tuesday, Platinum said: "Platinum Equity announces today that discussions with the board of AA have been terminated by mutual agreement and it does not intend to make an offer for AA."

But the US investor reserved its right to make or participate in a possible offer for AA within six months. However, this will be only with the agreement of the AA's board and if a rival bid is made.

Platinum's withdrawal potentially leaves only one consortium left in the race.

Late last month reports emerged that rival bidder Warburg Pincus was talking to Centerbridge Partners and Towerbrook Capital Partners about combining forces rather than making competing bids for AA.

Last month AA said that its trading has been resilient during the pandemic and it expects only a small hit when it presents its results on September 29.

Chairman John Leach said the businesses needed to pay down debts in order reach its "full potential". He hopes that a private equity deal could help.

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