Tourism businesses can start getting back to business

I know I am not alone in welcoming my colleague Fergus Ewing’s announcement that tourism businesses can start getting back to business from mid-July. To protect health services and save lives, we’ve been telling people to stay away from the Highlands and finally, we are starting to see our sacrifices pay off as lockdown eases.

We boast local tourism and hospitality sectors that are resilient, innovative and ingenious – after all these businesses already know how to survive the harshest off-seasons –  but even they will not be able to flourish without support.

The pandemic struck just as the tourism season was gearing up for its money-making season and as we know, these are sectors that matter to our local economy, culture and future prosperity.

These businesses need an urgent sectoral economic recovery plan backed by real financial incentives. The starting point would be for the Chancellor to convert financial loan backing to grant support for tourism and other vital industries most at risk. The sector will also need furlough payments maintained a bit longer to get on its feet and it is time for the UK Government to end VAT on the industry finally

If we don’t stand with our tourism and hospitality businesses now, they won’t be here to play their vital role in regenerating our economy, and it is our local economies that will pay the ultimate price.

To save these sectors, we also need to look outward and see how other nations are responding to this crisis. On quarantine, we could look to places like Iceland, where visitors take a free Covid-19 test on arrival and, only those who test positive, are required to quarantine for 14 days. Or to the Swiss and Japanese Governments, who are promoting ‘Staycations’ by paying a bonus to domestic visitors to support their tourism industry.

Locally, we also need a coordinated and robust response. New ideas will need testing – not all of them will work, and not everybody will be able to predict what is required accurately. These are uncharted waters with shifting tides and currents, but it will be the very ingenuity that has grown the local tourism sector to what it has become, that will see us through.

We can do this; we have the ability, and we have the experience. We also have an enormous – and I use that description deliberately – unique selling point. We have space full of nature and wonder. We have to adapt, we have to get clever but we can, and will get back from this crisis.

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