The Scottish Tourism Alliance will move into its 10th year as the acknowledged representative body for Scotland’s tourism industry in just a few months’ time. A year ago it would have seemed unfathomable to think that the role of our organisation would have become quite so vital for the protection and survival of our sector. Even six months ago, I think we had all felt hopeful that the green shoots of recovery might be in sight around about now, but the one key learning we must take from this pandemic is that change can come in a heartbeat and often not for the better.

As we now look ahead to five winters for our industry, this being the third, with most businesses in ‘deep freeze’ at the moment, and for what we are assuming will be for the next few months, the need for government support has never been greater.

Only yesterday I spoke to the owner of a hotel which is haemorrhaging £25,000 a day in costs. That’s costs, not lost revenue. The heating bill alone is £10,000 a day. For that particular business, financial support from the government is a one off £25,000 grant and a £3000 a month grant.

The Scottish Tourism Emergency Response Group conducted a survey between November and December last year, gathering nearly 3,000 responses and found that a fifth of businesses still in operation have no cash reserves left and 50% only have cash to last the next three to six months; 18% of businesses stated that they do not qualify for any financial support.

The present and near future for Scotland’s tourism industry could not be bleaker. Immediate and longer-term support is critical to ensure the rescue and protection of our industry and talks between the STA and the Scottish and UK governments continue at a rapid pace to try to shape the right support for the sector and communicate the priority issues which must be addressed.

The flow of funds into businesses simply isn’t happening quickly enough; there must be greater alignment between announcements of government support and the mechanisms which deliver the much-needed financial support Further support must be found for Scotland within the pockets of the UK Treasury; it is Scotland’s tourism sector that stimulates much of the UK’s visitor economy and to disregard the role and value of tourism as one of the major economic drivers in Scotland and the UK is both short sighted and economically disastrous.

Our businesses need to see an extension to the business rates holiday, continuation of the current rate of VAT for at least another year, much greater support for the supply chain whose main route to trade will remain closed potentially until late spring and the furlough payroll date being changed to December 31 to provide support to those who are currently not in receipt of support due to the existing date being August 31 2020.

This is what is required for immediate business survival; hope for the longer-term rests on the expediency of the vaccine roll out to kickstart the international market and of course stimulate the domestic market which we will be almost entirely reliant on for the tourist season in 2021.

The reality for Scotland’s tourism sector is grim. Our businesses are collapsing, our current and future tourism product is being eroded. Thousands have lost their jobs, business bank accounts are empty and, with it likely to be several months before we see any form of reopening and consumer confidence returning, we must see governments provide substantially greater financial support for a sector which has delivered so much to Scotland’s economy, culture, communities and way of life for decades.

Marc Crothall is chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance