IT was a landmark moment for the aviation industry, business and people separated for many months by the pandemic.

As of yesterday UK citizens who are fully vaccinated became free to travel once more to the US, more than 19 months after Washington dramatically reduced access to the country to combat coronavirus.

The long-awaited easing of US travel restrictions will provide an enormous lift to transatlantic airlines, the industries in their supply chains and of course to individuals who have been denied the opportunity to see loved ones in person since the pandemic began.

With North America the most valuable market for Scottish exports, worth more than £5.5 billion, and the US a top source of foreign direct investment into Scotland, it is a timely boost to the economy on this side of the Atlantic – a point hammered home by Scottish Chambers of Commerce yesterday.

“Rebuilding Scotland’s transatlantic aviation connectivity, business links and supply chains [is] vital to securing a strong return to economic growth and sending a clear message around the world that Scotland is ‘open for business’,” said chief executive Liz Cameron.

“International business travel is critical to securing international trade and investment, and many businesses and individuals will welcome this significant development which once again opens up a key export market for Scotland.”

Ms Cameron added: “Growth in exports drives job creation, boosts productivity and strengthens business resilience.”

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Thanks to the ready access to video conferencing software, Scottish companies which sell to the American market or have operations across the Pond have been able to maintain face-to-face contact with colleagues and customers in the US throughout the pandemic. There is no doubt this has been a huge asset for many businesses in keeping the show on the road.

However, as has regularly been observed throughout the last year-and-a-half, video calls cannot fully replicate the experience of “in-person” meetings.

Tommy Cook, chief executive of Scottish mobile network testing company Calnex, summed it up perfectly recently when he said it is “all that chat between the door and the conference room” which can be so crucial to business that is lost in the absence of physical meetings.

And it is not just business meetings that coronavirus has curtailed for Scottish companies of late. The pandemic will have led to the cancellation of many conferences and trade shows, events where relationships are forged and deals are cut, in the vast US market.

As for sectors that may benefit from the resumption of travel to the US, the Scotch whisky industry immediately springs to mind.

Scotch whisky exports to the US suffered enormously because of a 25 per cent import tariff slapped on to single malt by the Trump administration in October 2019, which remained in place until March of this year. The tariff weighed heavily on distillers as they dealt with the shockwaves of the pandemic, which closed off key routes to market in the on-trade and travel retail sector owing to Covid restrictions.

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Now the tariffs are gone and travel to the US has opened up, distillers may well be relishing the prospect of hopping on a plane to America to shore up relationships with key contacts in what is the most-valuable overseas market for Scotch whisky.

This is likely to be all the more welcome given the challenges that the industry and many other sectors are currently facing because of well-documented disruption to supply chains, which can be linked to the pandemic and to Brexit. These difficulties were underlined by Jean-Etienne Gourgues, chief executive of Chivas Brothers, who told The Herald on Thursday that the average lead time for getting shipments to Spain was now 15 days when it used to be two to three.

A spokeswoman for the Scotch Whisky Association told The Herald that there are “significant pressures” on the supply chain as the festive season, the industry’s busiest time of year, approaches. Some distillers are saying the pressures are the “worst they have ever known.”

The spokeswoman said: “Our member companies are experiencing particular issues with the supply of dry goods – like glass and other packaging – into manufacturing sites, and also with getting Scotch whisky to export hubs to fill orders around the world. Increased lead times and the availability of shipping containers to fill with Scotch whisky in Scotland have also persisted.

“The Scotch whisky industry’s productivity is contingent on the smooth running of its supply chain, and the whole industry wants to see this resolved urgently.”

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Echoing those views, Ms Cameron at Scottish Chambers declared that Scotland has been at the “sharp end of global supply chain disruption” as she emphasised the need for links to key markets such as the US to be repaired.

“The US market is critical for Scottish businesses and in 2019, 17% of Scotland’s total international exports went to the US, demonstrating the continued importance of good international trade links across the Atlantic,” Ms Cameron said.

“Repairing and rebuilding these international supply chains, tackling skills shortages, and building back business and consumer confidence is essential to growing Scotland’s international trade capabilities.”

Of course, it should be acknowledged that, within the context of international travel, some Scottish businesses with links to the US may not intend to go back to the way things were before the pandemic.

Companies that were formerly frequent flyers will have saved huge amounts of money as a result of being grounded by the pandemic. The owners of such businesses may now be taking a close look at costs and deciding whether they need to fly as much as before, and may elect to lean heavily on video calls instead – even if that means sacrificing some of the softer benefits of holding meetings in person.

There is an even bigger issue that may come into play too. With international attention focused on Glasgow and the COP26 summit that continues this week (former US President Barack Obama was in attendance yesterday), some business owners may now be taking climate change more into account when planning their business travel.

Many Scottish firms will have net-zero targets in place, and some may decide that reducing their air miles can play a big part in meeting such objectives.

The many thousands of marchers who took to the streets of Glasgow calling for action to address climate change last weekend underlined the mood for action. The challenge for business is to be part of the climate solution while simultaneously ensuring that it can continue to create the jobs and prosperity on which the economy depends.