A SCOTTISH estate has taken the unprecedented step of opening its caravan park into December after a rise in autumn bookings.

Blair Castle Estate, which also includes self-catering accommodation and lodges, said it has extended its opening season amid staycation demand arising from the coronavirus crisis.

The estate, which covers 145,000 acres, reported bookings for self-catering accommodation over September and October up 15 per cent on previous years and motorhome bookings in the caravan park were 23% higher.

It said it will also continue castle guided tours to run to mid-December and keep the caravan park to be available for bookings through to the end of the year.

However, the diverse destination is one of few that have been able to extend their season, according to tourism chiefs, who are today awaiting an announcement from Chancellor Rishi Sunak on future support for the sector described as critical to its survival.

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Blair Castle moved to extend its opening season beyond its traditional closing date in October for the first time, subject to ongoing government guidance.

The Perthshire estate has seen its summer holiday months extended well into the autumn, and it said the increase in autumn bookings reflected popularity of touring holidays in the Cairngorms National Park.

Blair Castle said it 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 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 Covid process in place to maintain cleanliness and aid social distancing.

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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 Scottish Government’s Tourism Recovery Taskforce highlighted the “need to extend season over the winter months”.

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However, while businesses were earlier urged to look at ways of extending their season if possible, few have been able to do so, said Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance.

“There are more businesses closed at the moment than there are likely to open”, he said.

“Right now the industry is constrained and from a visitor attraction point of view viability both on distancing and economically, because there is not enough demand, and the potential of holidaymakers not coming through in the flow we would want them to, it will have a bearing.”

He said a package of support “is massively needed by many business who have not even opened yet and others who have not made enough profit to keep them liquid”.