By Scott Wright

SCOTLAND’S tourism and hospitality sector has hailed a ‘real show of commitment’ after securing £2 million of public funding to provide two thousand leading industry scholarships for free.

The online training courses, which are being rolled out from today, have been described as a fillip for people who have seen their prospects badly affected by the pandemic. They also aim to improve skills in the workforce ahead of the hospitality and tourism sector reopening once coronavirus restrictions are eased.

The Scottish Government funding was secured following the joint efforts of the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) and HIT Scotland, a charity which supports up-and-coming talent through its respected scholarship programme.

Applications for the new Tourism and Hospitality Development Programme flooded in from a range of travel and hotel businesses around Scotland. The places will be taken up by many people who have been made redundant or are still on furlough. Part of the programme will equip people with the skills now needed in response to changes that are expected to be made in tourism and hospitality because of the pandemic.

In total, 80 cohorts of 25 people from 600 tourism businesses will begin the courses at 9am tomorrow. Organisers say it will be the largest virtual training course to ever take place in Scotland, declaring that it underlines the “passion for learning and development” that continues to burn in spite of the devastation caused by Covid-19.

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the STA, said the idea emerged from the work of the Tourism Task Force, which made a series of recommendations to Scottish ministers and the UK Government on how to help the tourism and hospitality sector recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

A key consideration had been to “protect our emerging talent, not lose them, and keep them engaged while we are in a period of closure,” he said.

Funding had initially been secured for 950 places. However, demand was so overwhelming that the STA and HIT Scotland approached Skills Development Scotland to ensure all 2,000 applicats could be accommodated. The organisations had been keen to avoid dealing a blow to people who had already lost their job or were at risk of doing so.

Mr Crothall told The Herald: “We did not want the mental health impacts to be felt as well. But also there is a massive opportunity to upskill and develop [people]. We went back out to Skills Development Scotland, and very quickly they came up with the monies, and trainers were able to put together the additional training to deliver at the same time.

“Two thousand people… I think it is the largest online leadership training programme ever delivered. It is fantastic news, [and] it is really positive for the industry. It is a real show of commitment by those in the industry, wanting to learn and develop.”

Mr Crothall said the fact many companies had encouraged employees currently on furlough to apply was a “demonstration that businesses care about their teams.”

“And it is not just hospitality,” he said. “We were very clear it needed to be about the breadth of the sector, so you have got people coming from visitor attractions, outdoor adventure environments, destinations, travel agents, as well as the more traditional hotels.”

The courses will be delivered by HIT (Scotland), with training provided on the supervisor, management and leadership levels of its scholarship programme. In 27 years, the charity has provided more than 3,000 scholarships; in the next 10 weeks it will deliver a further 2,000. David Cochrane, chief executive of HIT (Scotland), said: “The Talent Development Programme is the biggest mobilisation of online learning of this type, ever seen in Scotland.

“The fact that 2,000 industry leaders, managers and supervisors across Scotland have stepped up to participate, demonstrates that there is a burning desire for continuous professional development.

“The collaboration to bring this inspirational programme to the industry has been immense and the transformational outcomes expected will give our people the skills and mental resilience to hit the ground running and positively support the recovery when it comes.”

Tourism Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “It’s been a tough year for all but this is a really positive opportunity for tourism and hospitality staff to refresh and learn new skills in a safe way.”