THE Scottish tourism industry is braced for a difficult first full summer coming out of coronavirus with major staffing problems, rising costs and fewer bookings than expected creating a challenging backdrop this year.

However, despite short-term hurdles, the hotels sector is seeing positive activity and scope for opportunity with almost 300 Scottish hotels and guest houses on the market, according to one listings site.

While the shortage of 45,000 hospitality is unlikely to be dented this year, a successful 12 months ahead buoyed by more international visitors would be expected to lay strong foundations for future trading for existing operators, while a fluid market is attracting interest from south of the Border and also from Asian investors.

Stephen Leckie, owner of eight hotels in the Crieff Hydro group and chairman of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said: “It is not a disaster, but it is not the growth we would like to see coming out of Covid.

“If you are a honeypot destination, Inverness, north coast, NC500, the highlands the islands, Skye, business is good. If, however, you are in cities or in every other part of Scotland, it is tough."

HeraldScotland: Crieff Hydro chief executive Stephen Leckie, a direct descendant of the 1868 founder of the business Dr Thomas Meikle, with wife and director Fiona Leckie.Crieff Hydro chief executive Stephen Leckie, a direct descendant of the 1868 founder of the business Dr Thomas Meikle, with wife and director Fiona Leckie.

He continued: "It is pretty bleak, I have to say, it is not great reading, for tourism as a whole, hospitality as a whole. Costs have gone up much more than anybody anticipated. Some are saying they just cant afford to open the doors. The Covid situation is still nowhere near gone."

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He said: “The lack of staff is significant. Some say 2025 before it really builds back, others might say next year, maybe, but what we are hoping for is that this summertime it will come back. The business will come back, but the staffing won’t come back this summertime.

“The cost of doing business is going up. Our insurance has gone from £400,000 four years ago, to £1.1m, for basically the same thing. The electricity bill increase last year was £600,000, this year we budget £1.5 million.”

Booking habits appear to be more "canny", he said. "In the family market, folk are looking at the website eight times before booking. Pre-Covid they were looking twice before booking. Which means they are being much more careful about how they spend their money.

"The conference work is picking up, but it is delayed. It is the conference that could have gone ahead in the last two years are just booking, so it is not a massive plus on 2019 figures it is just catching up what didn’t happen before."

The international market is “not returning the way we anticipated it would do".

He said industry figures continue to press the Scottish Government to pursue favourable visa conditions to allow European workers to return.

HeraldScotland: Gleneagles Townhouse is to open on Monday June 6.Gleneagles Townhouse is to open on Monday June 6.

However, the buying and selling market is vibrant, according to experts. New hotels are also opening.

Gleneagles Townhouse in Edinburgh opens its doors in June for the first time.

Stuart Drysdale, of specialist hospitality agency Drysdale and Company, said investors from south of the Border and corporate groups are among those active in the Scottish market.

He said: “People are selling residential properties down south, especially in the south-east, and buying small hotels.

“We have seen that that sort of lifestyle/relocation market is quite good, and the larger stuff with a lot of new investors to the market, so private equity firms.

“With the recent sales of Fonab Castle and Dunkeld House, these are big institutions that have bought these that are really confident in them and the hospitality market.

“The private investors and private equity funds are paying good levels of prices for opportunities.

“For private individuals it is whether they can get the funding to meet the aspirations of the selling party.”

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Gary Witham, Christie & Co hotels director, said: “It’s a whole variety from small 10-15 beds, what we would call lifestyle businesses, up to a 100-plus city centre hotels which you would see more as a corporate type offering. A typical one would be in the £2-10m bracket, small corporates, often high net worth individuals.

“What we are seeing in those sorts of markets is people will look back at 2018 and 2019 and get a good feel for what a mature trading profile looked like and then they’ll look at the last 12 months and say how has the hotel bounced back post the worst Covid restrictions and take it from there.”

He said: “Over the last few months we have started to see money coming back from south-east Asia and China, investors over there looking for opportunities. Hotels in Scotland typically will give a better return initially pricewise than the equivalent property in England.”

Tony Spence, senior hospitality business agent at Christie & Co, said: “If we had to get one word out to vendors who are looking to maybe sell, this is the right time."