To say it’s been the worst year on record for Scottish tourism is an understatement and the latest STERG (Scottish Tourism Emergency Response Group) business survey paints a grim picture for tourism businesses trying to keep afloat during a global pandemic.From nearly 3,000 responses, a fifth of businesses still in operation have no cash reserves left and 50% only have cash to last the next three to six months. And, with 18% of businesses stating they do not qualify for any financial support, the last nine months is proving a significant challenge for the industry.

The new survey was conducted between 19 November and 6 December and was designed to look back on the impact of the pandemic on tourism businesses with a focus on financial support and changes to their operations.

The response is not all doom and gloom, with businesses showing that they are adapting and changing to ride the storm until we all get back to the normal we are all hoping for. With that in mind, just under three quarters of businesses believe they will get through the current crisis – although clearly that means that many won’t, and we know some have already permanently closed

There is no doubt that we have seen businesses adapt and change during the pandemic and, according to our survey, around a third of businesses have changed their operating model with another 17% planning changes.

Of those, some 60% are targeting new markets and 67% are looking at new ways to market and sell their products. Whether it’s encouraging takeaway sales or targeting domestic or ultra-local markets, these businesses have put innovation at the heart of their survival.

As those businesses look to the future – several themes are emerging to ensure they can come out of this crisis and rebuild tourism. The majority of businesses have said that access to government funding is the most critical thing for their survival, followed by access to cash via support from banks and other sources – but lobbying government, support for recovery marketing and continued support and advice, were also identified as crucial to help them recover.

The most accessed financial support packages were the Furlough scheme and the Business Support Grant fund – although almost a fifth of businesses have received no support at all. STERG continues to work with government to identify gaps in funding and we will see some new pots of money coming in the new year to help struggling sectors.

Industry initiatives like Good to Go and advice and support by public agencies were all raised as essential non-financial support. Although not providing funding, these “softer” initiatives show there is clearly a need to keep the communication flowing with the latest information.

According to the research, around a fifth of businesses did not reopen in July and a significant number of those businesses – around 80% – stated they would reopen once conditions improved. Over a third of businesses said they had done worse than expected but a further 25% felt they had done better than expected when they were allowed to open (although the majority were still below levels seen in 2019)– we suspect this was driven by a domestic boost during the school summer holidays.

However, the financial hit for businesses has been extreme this year with 58% saying they had lost up to £50,000 but around 6% lost more than £1 million.

The hit on jobs is of grave concern for those of us who support this industry with three quarters of businesses (who employ staff) reducing their staff numbers and 35% making staff redundant. The furlough scheme has been of great help with 69% of businesses employing staff using the scheme but two thirds stated they hadn’t taken on staff they would normally employ throughout the year.

So, a picture of financial hardship and job losses – but also a picture of innovation and inspiration from the tourism industry. Add to this continuing low consumer confidence levels, and things are still looking pretty gloomy.

There is a vaccine rolling out across Scotland and for the first time we are able to be more hopeful. At VisitScotland, we hope we can start marketing Scotland soon and we can start to welcome visitors – particularly from overseas – as soon as it is safe to do so.

You can see the full research on We will be providing a full report including sectoral and regional analysis in the New Year.