TOURISM bosses have urged Nicola Sturgeon to provide an urgent support package and allow parts of the sector, such as hotels and caravan parks, to reopen sooner than currently planned.

The Scottish Tourism Alliance warned of mass unemployment, irreversible damage and the "gradual collapse" of the sector unless action is taken. 

In a letter to the First Minister, it said: "It cannot be underestimated just how many tourism businesses will close within the next few weeks, given that they have no early opportunity to open."

It came as Ms Sturgeon published her long-awaited plan on easing the coronavirus lockdown.

Pubs and restaurants could reopen their outdoor areas by late June, while all schools will reopen on a part-time basis from August 11.

Restrictions on accommodation providers, including hotels and holidays lets, will not be relaxed until phase three, in mid July at the earliest.

The STA wants self-catering facilities, sailing, caravan parks and hotels to be able to reopen sooner provided they are able to demonstrate they can conform to agreed safety standards, as has been the case with other UK devolved nations. 

It called for "an urgent support package in the short term to stop more businesses from closing and making employees redundant", and asked Scottish ministers to push for this from the UK Treasury.

It is also seeking a long-term package of specific support for the tourism sector due to loss of revenue from remaining closed during the high season, as well as the establishment of an overarching ministerial task force as soon as possible.

Its letter to Ms Sturgeon is signed by chief executive Marc Crothall and chair Stephen Leckie. 

They write: "Without immediate and longer-term support, Scotland will experience mass unemployment with the gradual collapse of Scotland’s tourism sector. 

"This is happening now and the crisis will continue to unfold over the coming days and weeks with more businesses closing, job losses in the thousands, mass redundancies and irreversible damage to what is one of Scotland’s most important economic drivers. 

"Thousands of redundancies will be announced within the coming days."

They said the sector delivers £7bn to Scotland’s GDP and 218,000 jobs.

They wrote: "A stark number of tourism businesses are being turned down for hardship and other grants. These businesses will also not survive more than a few weeks. 

"For those who have received support, this has dwindled and is putting put many smaller businesses at risk of closure."

The STA stressed it wholeheartedly supports the Scottish Government’s "focus and commitment to saving lives and protecting the health of our nation". 

It said the industry is committed to "reopening in a safe way that will continue to protect our employees, our guests and our communities".