The past month has seen Scotland’s tourism industry experience one of the most intensely challenging periods since the outbreak of the pandemic.

The impact of the emergence of the Omicron hit our sector at the beginning of what is a key period for trade, one which so many businesses were relying on to recoup some of the lost earnings of the past two years and move towards a greater level of financial stability.

I took time over the festive period to visit and support many businesses in my area; the situation was almost identical in every single one. Bare tables and empty seats, a never-ending rotation of staff isolation and understandably, pretty low morale.

The impact of the pandemic on the mental health within our sector has been significant and Omicron dealt another heavy blow to an already fragile sector. A few weeks on however, it seems there is real scope for the term we have become all too familiar with – cautious optimism.

The easing of restrictions around international travel, which has seen several sectors within Scotland’s tourism industry become almost dormant for two years is a game-changer. International tourism (pre-Covid) accounts for around 45% of total tourism and hospitality spend in Scotland; it is this mix of business and leisure tourism and the economic buoyancy it stimulates within communities which has a direct impact on the health of the nation’s wealth.

The removal of this market has been devastating for so many tourism businesses and the supply chain; its return will mark a pivotal moment in our economic recovery which should give us hope and refocus the energies of our businesses, government and public agencies in delivering the ambitions of Scotland’s Tourism Strategy, Outlook 2030.

2022 is Scotland’s Year of Stories which offers a unique opportunity for us to tell our story, capitalise on Visit Scotland’s activity and welcome the world back to Scotland. Scotland’s tourism industry’s story will be one of resilience and ambition, guided by our tourism strategy vision: We will be the world leader in 21st century tourism.’

2022 I very much hope will be the year to focus on those key priorities of the tourism strategy – our passionate people, our thriving places, our communities and environment. Our mission is clear. Together we will grow the value and positively enhance the benefits of tourism and hospitality across Scotland by delivering the very best for our visitors, our businesses, our people, our communities and our environment.

The past two years have strengthened us an industry in so many ways. Yes, we’re still feeling the aftershocks of what has been an unimaginably difficult time but by drawing on the positives, we can move forward with a stronger collective momentum and deliver the types of experiences we are known for.

The STA as the industry’s overarching representative body has consolidated a positive, healthy and productive working relationship with both governments. We have expanded our network and reach throughout the crisis, working relentlessly to stabilise and strengthen the industry through our influence and relationships. There is much to build on.

Living and working in a Covid landscape is something we are becoming more accepting of. Many of the challenges we’re dealing with as an industry will remain for some time and the STA will continue to expend all of our efforts to ensure that both short term and long-term solutions are sought to keep our industry moving through recovery. I believe we may be turning a hugely important corner and the hope that we have all dug so deep to find over the past two years can be channelled towards sustainable recovery with energy, ambition and a strong sense of pride in welcoming the world back to Scotland.

Marc Crothall is chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance