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27/05/2020

Covid-19 Committee Call for Views

The ASSC welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Scottish Parliament’s COVID-19 Committee call for views on the options for refining or reducing the current lockdown arrangements.

We provide our comments from the perspective of a key stakeholder in Scotland’s tourism industry – the self-catering sector provides an annual £723m boost to the Scottish economy – and have highlighted our response to the publication of the Scottish Government’s routemap for transitioning out of lockdown.

Introduction

Founded in 1978, the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC) is the leading source of knowledge on short-term letting and holiday homes in Scotland. The ASSC is the only trade body representing the interests of the traditional self-catering sector. It has more than 650 Members, operating in excess of 7,000 self-catering properties throughout Scotland, from city centre apartments, to rural cottages, to lodges and chalets, to castles. The ASSC commits its members to maintaining the principles of “quality, integrity, cleanliness, comfort, courtesy and efficiency” and to offering visitors to Scotland consistently high standards within their self-catering properties.

The ASSC welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Scottish Parliament’s COVID-19 Committee call for views on the options for refining or reducing the current lockdown arrangements. We provide our comments from the perspective of a key stakeholder in Scotland’s tourism industry – the self-catering sector provides an annual £723m boost to the Scottish economy – and have highlighted our response to the publication of the Scottish Government’s routemap for transitioning out of lockdown.

Executive Summary

Overall, the ASSC believes:

  • There should be an evidence-based approach to the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions and government and industry must work together for the benefit of communities when restarting and reopening the tourism sector.
  • There is scope for the self-catering sector to re-open in Phase 2 of the Scottish Government’s routemap for transitioning out of lockdown – mirroring the approach taken elsewhere in the UK – which will boost Scotland’s tourism sector and improve national wellbeing through ‘staycations’.
  • Self-catering is currently placed in Phase 3, alongside hotels and B&Bs, despite the fact that the majority of self-catering units are located in rural/remote areas with no shared facilities. The Scottish Government should therefore differentiate between different types of tourist accommodation to enable self-catering accommodation to reopen sooner in the process.
  • Any self-catering unit seeking to reopen must fulfil and adhere to a strict set of criteria and an evidence-based risk assessment, including a robust cleaning protocol and social distancing measures.
  • The tourism sector will require clear messaging from government and industry that visitors are welcome again in Scotland following the strong and necessary anti-travel advice during lockdown.

ASSC Response to Scottish Government’s Routemap

Overall, the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC) believes it is imperative that we take an evidence-based approach to the removal of lockdown restrictions. Moreover, partnership working between government and trade associations will be crucial to ensure consumer and community confidence.

The Scottish Government’s routemap document shows that self-catering will form part of Phase 3 in terms of the relaxation of restrictions, placing it alongside hotels and B&B accommodation. During her accompanying statement to the Scottish Parliament announcing the measures, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stated that the proposals “cannot be set in stone”. Consideration should be therefore be granted to allowing the self-catering sector to open earlier in the process.

Such an approach would replicate the approach taken elsewhere on these islands. The UK Government has identified self-caterers in their ‘amber’ recovery phase and hotels in the ‘red’ recovery phase and the Welsh Government’s roadmap includes the opening of “accommodation businesses without shared facilities” in their amber phase. A distinction between types of accommodation and a bespoke approach for self-catering is perfectly possible in Scotland.

The ASSC believes that there is adequate scope to differentiate between accommodation models and to enable self-catering units to be part of Phase 2 for the following reasons:

  • When assessing social distancing risks, it is clear that self-catering units are the most appropriate forms of accommodation that could open first and a blanket approach is unfair and inequitable to such a diverse sector.
  • The majority of self-catering units are located in remote and rural areas and, unlike hotels, have no shared facilities. A family who travel by car from their residence to a self-catering unit, while adhering to government guidelines, represents a negligable risk.
  • The routemap states that Phase 2 will allow those pubs and restaurants who can cater outdoors to open on the proviso that they are using those outdoor spaces with social distancing measures in place and increased hygiene routines. Given the make-up of the self-catering sector, there is no reason why it could not be part of Phase 2 if robust cleaning protocols are put in place.

On that very issue, the ASSC has always judged that the health and safety of visitors and guests in self-catering accommodation is paramount but this takes on even greater significance in the current context. As a consequence:

  • Any self-catering unit seeking to reopen must fulfil and adhere to a strict set of criteria and an evidence-based risk assessment.
  • The ASSC has established a robust cleaning protocol in consultation with stakeholders. This could be part of a self-certification scheme or be mandated by the Scottish Government.

 As things currently stand, it is likely that self-catering operators could miss the essential summer season when it could safely open at an earlier stage with social distancing and robust cleaning protocols. This situation will be compounded by the fact that equivalent businesses may open sooner in the rest of the UK, thereby further disadvantaging the Scottish tourism sector.

It goes without saying that the nature of this new framework will entail nuanced advice in the months ahead. In terms of the tourism sector specifically, due to the strong and necessary anti-travel advice, as well as the associated media and political comment in recent times, it is critical that we carefully redefine this narrative. Reopening will require clear messaging from the national and local government to inform communities that visitors are welcome once again.

Conclusion

When entering lockdown, the self-catering sector acted responsibly and played its part in suppressing the virus by temporarily closing businesses in Scotland. This came at a great financial cost to the industry but it was the correct course of action. As we begin to chart our journey out of lockdown, we believe it is only right that our sector is treated fairly by government when it comes to easing restrictions.

As a sector, we are hopeful that self-catering may be able to restart in Phase 2 of the Scottish Government’s routemap. Tourism is a vital mainstay of local economies in Scotland – particularly in rural areas – and self-catering will be a crucial component part of our economic recovery and national wellbeing.

Fiona Campbell

Chief Executive

Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers

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