It is a vital contributor to Scotland’s economy and provides jobs for more than 200,000 people and nearly nine per cent of the country's employment rate, but the tourism industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus lockdown with holidays and bookings being cancelled.

Many people in the tourism sector are self-employed and have found their source of income virtually cut off overnight. However, there is hope on the horizon as a leading university professor is optimistic the industry will pick up when restrictions ease and says the key lies in the domestic market which could see Scots reconnecting with their homeland.

Professor John Lennon, Director of the Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism at Glasgow Caledonian University, said: “Scotland is incredibly dependent on domestic tourism which is the UK – Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales. 15.5 million visitors came to Scotland in 2019 and 12million of them were from the domestic market largely Scotland itself and England. So we are very dependent on domestic visitation much more than other countries. Let's not forget how important it is to the economy as tourism is worth five per cent, £6.6billion, of Scotland's gross domestic product.”

While tourism-based businesses have had to take measures to protect themselves during this crisis, Professor Lennon is confident Scotland will benefit when people are allowed to travel again.

“I am certain when the green light goes for travel and moving around, given the restrictions that there will still be in other parts of the world with problems with air connectivity, the international market recovery will be a more slow and staggered fashion,” he added.

“What is good for Scotland is that we are very well established as a domestic destination already. Another thing is that a lot of people in the UK live in highly urbanised areas. Most of the restrictions placed on personal travel and behaviour look to be lengthening every time I listen to a broadcast which suggests to a degree a that when we do reconnect with family and friends again that will be a big affair.

“And what we offer in Scotland is that combination of great cities and great urban centres of tourism such as Edinburgh and Glasgow, but within 45 to 60 minutes can be out relatively remote countryside.

“With such large areas to discover, what really is the beauty of the Scottish product is its proximity to coasts, lakes, highlands and islands and rural back drops.”

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With vulnerable people being told to isolate for 12 weeks, and restrictions being placed on activity which is non-essential, it is not known when the population can move freely again. And with major events such as the Edinburgh festivals in August and the COP26 summit in Glasgow in November being postponed, it could be sometime before life returns to normal.

Professor Lennon believes there can still be a degree of recovery for tourism after lockdown but it could be later in the year.

He added: “I restrictions are lifted it is possible tourism could get going towards the end of the year.

“It will be an interesting to see whether or not the Scots themselves will have the capacity to travel overseas. That option might not be there. We normally see more people leaving than coming but that will be nullified. The range of carriers that travellers have enjoyed up until now has brought price competition and we have seen prices driven down with people able to get around Europe quite cheaply.

“However, there is no guarantee that that will remain in a post-covid tourism future. Also we might well see behaviour change in terms of people travelling around the world.”

He added that the airline industry is based around developed and popular routes and he believes some of the peripheral routes may take longer to come back.

“Airlines are going to look at around 10 years data to assess what they put in first - that’s how they run their business,” he said.

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Professor Lennon added that tourism can resume until the health crisis is dealt with.

He added: "Obviously the primary concern in all of this is health. However, a crisis like this leads to an economic crisis and tourism and travel is a very vulnerable part of that, but we understand that we have to constrict movement to contain the virus.

“My heart goes out to anyone in the tourism industry at the moment. They might still have costs to cover and while they might not have staff to pay, there might still have all the other costs associated with running a business such as a mortgage, rent, and rates.

“But businesses can rebuild and part of that is relying on the loyalty of customers they already. The old adage is that these are customers where we can build most capital from and it is important that businesses maintain contact with customers and users with a view to trying to rebuild.”

While the capital of tourism in Scotland is seen as the urban centre which remain popular and enjoy good connectivity and access, Professor Lennon believes one thing that might stem from this crisis is introducing more people to what’s on offer in other parts of Scotland.

He added: “I hope that we could get people better distributed around Scotland to enjoy the countryside and what the country has to offer. The cities have to recover as well and undoubtedly will, but the great thing Scotland has in abundance is open spaces, close to mountains, coasts and cities and very few countries have that.”

Scottish Tourism Alliance chief executive Marc Crothall said he believes it could be around three year before the tourism industry returns to 2019 trading conditions.

Mr Crothall said: "The indicators are it could take around three years to get back to the trading we enjoyed last year given the impact this crisis will have and we will have to wait and see what kind of product we will have and how many people in the industry can survive this period.

"Already we have been looking to recovery and have set up the Scottish Tourism Resillance group which meets every week. There will be a number of factors to take into account there will be the displacement of the labour market and there maybe implications in the supply chain. It is all very well reopening a hotel but you don't have the linen or laundry providers that presents its own problems."

Mr Crothall agreed that domestic tourism had to be the "greatest opportunity in the short term."

He added: "Even with people on our own doorstep we don't know if people are going to be confident enough staying in certain types of accommodation, for example Air BnB style, where you don't see the person and is cleaned by someone they are not even seeing, compared to a bigger chain which might have robust practices. I think there might be a bit of hesitancy.

"I think the start of rebuilding the industry will come from days out and family trips. People might not have the same disposable income and I think we need to prioritise the choice of leisure experience. We may even see a different type of tourist market develop. We will certainly be doing all we can to encourage people to holiday at home and spend money in the local economy.

Chris Greenwood, Senior Tourism Insight Manager, VisitScotland, said that the domestic market is indeed part of their recovery plan.

He said: “Whilst the situation around Covid-19 does seem like it will continue for some time and it’s had a hugely damaging effect on our tourism industry, VisitScotland is continually looking at data to determine when the recovery period will begin. It’s still too early to say if this will be in the autumn, however we do expect the first boost to come from the domestic market, as we saw with other major events such as foot and mouth disease. We expect to see a reluctance to travel internationally so concentrating on the domestic market is part of our recovery plan, when the time is right.

“On an annual basis, we’d see around 1,211,000 visitors to the Highlands and 1,246,000 in Edinburgh & the Lothians from across the UK and although the numbers this year will be significantly lower, we’d expect these areas to still be the most popular.”

Top 10 destinations for domestic (GB resident) visitors for overnight stays in Scotland for holiday purposes

Destination Number Trips for Holiday Purposes

EDINBURGH City 1,098,000

GLASGOW City 596,000


AVIEMORE 197,000


ABERDEEN 174,000

AYR 158,000

OBAN 116,000


ISLE OF SKYE 114,000

Source: GBTS / VisitScotland

Top 10 Local Authority regions visited for domestic (GB resident) visitors for overnight stays in Scotland for holiday purposes

Local Authority Number Trips for Holiday Purposes

Edinburgh, City Of 1,246,000

Highland 1,211,000

Glasgow City 666,000

Argyll And Bute 510,000

Perth And Kinross 449,000

Dumfries And Galloway 417,000

Fife 247,000

South Ayrshire 242,000

Scottish Borders 226,000

Stirling 190,000

Source: GBTS/VisitScotland

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