7th July 2020
It seems hard to believe that we are now more than halfway through the year, with the summer solstice not long past and the nights slowly but surely drawing in once more. This has been a year of unprecedented challenges for businesses in the North Highlands, and this looks set to continue as we move towards the second half of the year and a gradual easing of lockdown restrictions.
Recent announcements from Scottish Government have provided some good news and indications for the path towards the recovery of our economy. In particular, the ability of tourism and hospitality businesses to restart operations from 15 July will be welcome news to many.
However, it’s clear that loosening of restrictions on tourism cannot and should not happen in a vacuum, and that the industry still faces significant challenges even after businesses are able to start operating again.
Transport, for example, will play a key role in ensuring the success of tourism in the North Highlands in a post-lockdown world. With the likelihood of some form of quarantine on international travel, and an understandable wariness about travelling too far from home, domestic tourism will have a key role to play in the success of the area.
Sadly, this year’s developments have included both Loganair and Eastern Airways withdrawing their air services from Wick to Edinburgh and Aberdeen respectively, leaving us with no commercial air services to the region. As a Chamber, we are continuing to push for a Public Service Obligation (PSO) from Wick to help ensure that both business and leisure travellers have access to reliable, affordable air services.
It is also important that Government listens closely to the concerns of communities such as the North Highlands when it comes to restarting tourism. We all appreciate the importance and value that the sector brings to the region, but many are concerned about the public health implications as we come out of lockdown.
This is absolutely an issue for Government and should not be one for businesses to manage. We need clear, unambiguous guidance and messaging from Scottish Government to address the concerns of communities like the North Highlands as the sector reopens.
A real positive from the COVID-19 situation, if such a thing can be found, has been how quickly Governments, local authorities and businesses have been able to act and to work closely together to find solutions to the most pressing issues. As we start to return to something approaching “normal”, there is a real opportunity for this kind of dynamic, responsive approach to business issues to continue and to abandon some of the red tape that has so often held us back.
Speed will be of the essence in ensuring that our tourism industry can survive and thrive in the coming weeks, months, and years. While we understand and appreciate the work that Scottish Government is doing to support tourism in the longer term, it is important that immediate action is taken to support the industry.
We have a key list of asks on the table, from VAT reduction to sector-specific extensions of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, and we need Scottish Government to act where they can on these, and to clearly represent the needs of businesses to UK Government where action is needed on reserved matters.
As a Chamber, we will continue to listen closely to the needs of our members and the community of the North Highlands, and do everything we can to ensure that Government delivers the support we need in these challenging times.