It has prompted concerns that many owners will go out of business as customers choose to take breaks in England where regulations are less restrictive. The Scottish government had said on Tuesday that family and friends from two households could meet in self-catering properties as long as there were not more than six adults present.
However, it reversed that decision late on Wednesday, causing widespread confusion and a serious headache for business owners and those planning an autumn break.
The Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC) estimated that £70 million of bookings were in place for the final three months of 2020 and much of this will be lost. Industry research suggests bookings worth about £4 million have been cancelled in the past few days while new bookings have dropped sharply.
There is a knock-on economic impact on pubs, restaurants, visitor attractions and other local services, such as cleaners and laundry providers, from the reduced numbers of tourists. The rule changes came into force yesterday and will have an impact on many families who had booked breaks during the school holidays next month.
Fiona Campbell, chief executive of the ASSC, said that more than 40 per cent of self-catering properties in Scotland were for six people or more.
She has “been in tears” looking at the booking calendar for her own cottage by Loch Long with seven cancellations in the past 24 hours.
“I am watching my own business collapse in front of me,” she said. “The problem is this has been unworkable. We have had members phoning guests on Wednesday saying things were fine then having to contact those same people the following day telling them not to come.”
The ASSC began an industry survey on Thursday and by yesterday morning had received more than 750 responses. Some 15 per cent said they feared their business was no longer viable with 41 per cent expecting lost bookings totalling up to £10,000 before the end of the year — 13 per cent expect the value of their lost bookings to top £20,000.
Ms Campbell described the initial findings as grim. “The reputational damage to Scottish tourism is astronomical and our sector is being decimated,” she said.
“In parts of England you can have six people from different households staying. So people are cancelling in Scotland and going straight to England for their October holiday.”
The Times has learnt of one operator in the Highlands who has told large parties they will not receive a refund if they cancel. Others proprietors are looking at temporary measures to help them survive such as seeing if they could operate as a bed and breakfast or provide a boutique hotel-type service.
Sarah-Jane Laing, chief executive of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “Many properties [were] fully booked until the end of the year by friends and families who were looking forward to a much-needed break or a staycation during the school holidays.
“The first minister urged Scots just the other day not to travel abroad during the October break. Now many won’t be able to support Scottish tourism, instead forcing them to look south of the border for a holiday where the rules around self-catering properties are different in some areas.”
Greig Cameron, Saturday September 26 2020, The Times