THE SCOTTISH Government is preparing for a surge of staycations when the lockdown is eased – and is bracing for “jam-packed” roads as Scots head out to popular destinations. 

Tourism Secretary Fergus Ewing was quizzed by MSPs over the impact the Covid-19 outbreak is having on the tourism industry and its recovery. 

Mr Ewing warned that the recovery for Scotland’s tourism sector “will not be quick” and is likely to be “a long period of recovery”. 

He added: “At this stage, it’s not possible to say which measures will be put in place in the near future and how they will affect the tourism sector.” 

The Tourism Secretary stressed that traders will have to learn to run tourism businesses “in a way that keeps people safe”. 

He indicated that “major challenges” lie ahead over “how can pubs, restaurants, cruise liners, other places where people congregate quite closely together” can be operated “in a viable way if there are to be fewer customers”. 

He added: “Every organisation is working to have recovery plans put into place, ready to be put into action, when it’s safe so to do. 

“It’s absolutely essential that we use this time to build up a basis of how businesses will react, making sure that safety of the public is the priority. 

“The overwhelming majority of businesses, from hotels, caravan parks, visitor attractions, coach operators – they’re taking this very, very seriously indeed.” 

In 2018, there were more than 15 million overnight visitors to Scotland, including 2.5 million from overseas, spending more than £5 billion. Spending by overnight tourists and day visitors in Scotland was around £10.4 billion in 2018 – generating around £12 billion of economic activity. and contributing around £7 billion to the Scottish GDP   

When restrictions are eased in Scotland, Mr Ewing believes there is likely to be a surge in staycation holidays by Scots. 

He said: “With the unlikely event of aviation as we knew it resuming soon or possibly even by next spring, staycations, I think, will be extremely popular. Many people who are cooped up in flats now, will obviously want to enjoy a holiday as soon as they possibly can. 

“We have to consider and we have to manage the foreseeable scenario where the first weekend, the road from east Loch Lomond, from Drymen to Ben Lomond, is jam-packed because everybody goes to the most popular area. 

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“We have to think about that as well, and these practical issues – the provision of public toilets and lavatories and other services – all these things we need to plan in advance so that when the restrictions are lifted, we can enjoy a staycation in Scotland.” 

The warning comes amid reports that police are stopping and fining people who try to drive into Scotland from England – with travel restrictions lifted south of the Border. 

Mr Ewing also criticised the UK Government’s decision not to offer financial support to tourism businesses with premises more than a rateable value of £51,000 – labelling it a “fundamental unfairness”. 

He added: “I do think at a UK level, there should be a recognition that those businesses have fixed costs every month. I do think there’s a disparity there. I have urged Nigel Huddleston, the Tourism Minister in the UK, to urge the Treasury to fill the gap. 

“As yet, we have not had a response. To be fair to the UK Government, they have made changes to the furlough scheme – they have been willing to change there, my ask is that they are willing to change here. 

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“We will see the loss of the most valued hotels in just about every major rural town in Scotland and Britain unnecessarily.” 

At a virtual Holyrood question session on the economy, Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop said the tourism sector would require extended financial support by the UK Government. 

Asked about the UK furlough scheme being cut back from August, possibly from 80 to 60 per cent of a monthly wage, she said she was concerned about the impact. 

She said: “Clearly for some sectors, and I think specifically if you’re looking at hospitality and tourism, those sectors will need longer support than those that will be to come back into productive work more quickly. 

“I also think oil and gas will also need ongoing support for particular reasons. 

“I can understand the cost and burden to the UK government of this. 

“But that reduction to 60% can only make sense if that company can come back into active trading to help secure that difference up to 80%. 

“What we don’t want to see is companies having to close because they can’t meet that extra burden of payment if there’s 60% support from the UK Government only.” 

READ MORE: Scott Wright: Furlough extension vital to survival of Scottish tourism and hospitality

In written evidence to Holyrood, the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) highlights that “it will be years before our industry looks anything similar to what it did previously” and warns that “it may look entirely different”.  

The submission adds that “quality will become more important than quantity”, with traders not being able to generate profits from numbers.  

It adds: “This is also an opportunity for Scotland’s tourism industry to lead the way with best practice and show the world that through collaboration between government, public agencies and industry, we were able to recover and rebuild a stronger, more sustainable industry for future generations.   

“Radical change is needed, strong, consistent support must be in place to protect and support such an important economic driver for Scotland’s economy, our communities and our people.”  

The STA adds that "without continued support for the long-term, hundreds of businesses will close for good within the next two months and our tourism product will be significantly weakened". 

Fiona Campbell, CEO of the Scottish Association of Self Caterers, added: "Previously profitable businesses are facing dire financial circumstances due to the impact of Covid-19.  

"Failure to adequately support our sector will not only impact the accommodation offering for Scotland’s tourism industry – which will be an important part of our economic recovery – but may cause irreversible damage to rural communities who depend on tourism."