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02/06/2020

Issues Raised at Scottish Tourism Alliance Meeting

The following issues were raised at the Scottish Tourism Alliance Council Meeting on 2nd June:

Differentiation of Accommodation Models and Phase 2 Reopening

The ASSC welcomed 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.

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.
  • 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 ASSC believes that there is adequate scope to differentiate between accommodation models and to enable self-catering units to be part of Phase 2.
  • This would mirror the approach taken elsewhere in the UK – which will boost Scotland’s tourism sector and improve national wellbeing through ‘staycations’.
  • 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.

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.

Accommodation for Construction Workers

With some construction work being included in Phase 2, large infrastructure projects throughout rural Scotland will rely on accommodation for workers being able to stay near the construction site. self-catering properties are best placed to provide this accommodation.

As it stands, however, self-catering, accommodation providers can only take bookings for key workers, or for future dates when they will be permitted to open (currently not before phase 3).  Workers are permitted to travel to and from work where working from home is not possible. This may require considerable distances being driven by individual workers each day (with no car sharing permitted). The ASSC would suggest that this one size fits all solution is not the answer.

Island Lockdown

On 28th May, Transport Secretary Michael Matheson MSP announced that ferry travel will be restricted and the islands could be kept in lockdown for several months. If this is the case, many island businesses will not be able to open and may become unviable. Has the Scottish Government considered the impact of this on island communities and their local economies?

Consumer Confidence

Robust messaging is now critical and needs to be developed fast if we are to be able to open any kind of tourism offer, or even allow accommodation for construction workers (Phase 2). This messaging has to come from the Scottish Government and be supported by VisitScotland, local authorities, agencies, and businesses. MPs and MSPs must support a campaign to reverse the negative narrative as a matter of urgency.

Cleaning Protocols

ASSC has developed robust cleaning guidelines in association with the Professional Association of Self-Caterers and the Short-Term Accommodation Association. This is based on UKHospitality DNA, but is specifically designed for and fit for purpose for the self-catering sector.

The content is based on guidance from the HSE (Health and Safety Executive), WHO (World Health Organisation), European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC), Centres for Disease Control (CDC), NIH (National Institutes of Health), and NHS (National Health Service).

We have indicative support from VisitEngland, VisitScotland, VisitWales, Tourism Alliance, Welsh Tourism Alliance and Scottish Tourism Alliance.

We hope to have sign off and acceptance of a UK wide scheme as a matter of urgency. Businesses are keen to prepare.

Self-Catering Grants / Financial Assistance

Case Study:

“Our application went to appeal and we heard today that we were unsuccessful. We have a smallholding and the income from the farm varies from year to year. For the 2017-18 year the self-catering took in 40% of our income but for the year 2018-19 it only took in around 25% and that was the year they looked at. On average it would be 32.75%. Very disappointing after 29 years but we have to accept it and so we are not too sure if we want to continue with self-catering now.” Orkney

  • The eligibility criteria remain unduly onerous for self-caterers, who may not be able to evidence either occupancy of over 140 nights or one third or more of income, even if the income provides a vital part of the overall income.
  • According to the Islands (Scotland) Act, any policy should be underpinned by an economic risk assessment to ensure that island communities and businesses are not disadvantaged. This did not take place.
  • Many operators are ineligible for financial support from either the Grant scheme, or SEISS, due to the exclusion of income from FHL income.
  • Self-catering currently sits in phase 3 opening.
  • As things stand, with a phase 3 re-opening, self-caterers will miss the summer season while everyone travels to England, France and Italy.
  • If islands open yet later, operators are facing three winters in a row.

With a lack of financial support for many, as it stands, this has to be addressed.

ASSC continues to recommend that the following evidence may perhaps be preferable:

  • Overall turnover of self-catering element to earnings (not percentage)
  • Number of nights occupied Feb 2019-Feb 2020, with evidence of actual occupancy of over 70 days
  • Online presence (website address) of property to evidence that it is a commercial activity

This would evidence an active income stream from self-catering and should not be onerous for an operator of an active self-catering business.

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