Chief Executive’s Report 2020
Back in January I had an optimistic and romantic notion that 2020 would be a little calmer. With the proposals for short-term let legislation and tourism tax on the horizon, the ASSC had its ducks in a row and were ready for the fight. The ASSC published two policy papers in February and March 2020 and was actively engaged with Scottish Government’s Short-Term Let Delivery Group.
And then Covid-19 arrived.
- We all know that coronavirus has posed an unprecedented challenge to the entire tourism sector, including self-catering. From the outset of the pandemic and the introduction of lockdown, the self-catering sector as a whole has demonstrated considerable leadership and perseverance, as we responsibly closed our businesses, often at great personal and financial cost.
- Moreover, individual self-caterers themselves also demonstrated leadership by providing free and discounted accommodation to key workers, including those undertaking vital work in our NHS.
- Throughout the pandemic, the ASSC has fought the corner of its members, kept them informed of unfolding developments over multiple platforms, and engaged with leading tourism stakeholders, MSPs and the Scottish Government to ensure the best outcome possible for our sector.
- Ensuring that our sector could recover from the challenge of coronavirus was dependent upon ensuring that businesses could access the support grants they needed to survive. We undertook a lengthy and sustained process of lobbying Ministers and officials to help rectify difficulties in the system, ensuring that even more were able to access funds. This work culminated in the creation of a £1m fund from the Scottish Government, administered by the ASSC and Visit Scotland, to those businesses who were unjustly excluded from accessing these grants.
- Before reopening, we had to build confidence within government, communities and consumers that we could provide a safe environment for visitors in the context of Covid-19. The ASSC – leading our industry – worked tirelessly to produce cleaning protocols that the UK Government and all devolved governments, including here in Scotland, have endorsed.
- Our hard work and determined lobbying efforts also extended to securing an earlier reopening of the self-catering sector than was originally intended – ensuring that the Scottish Government stuck to an evidence-led process against our detractors – which provided a £20m boost to the Scottish economy.
- The tourism sector reopened and self-catering operators the length and breadth of Scotland returned to what they do best: showcasing Scotland’s unique hospitality and offering safe and memorable experiences to visitors.
- The road is open, but there are real and damaging pot holes to navigate.
- As you will know, we have issued a series of surveys this year. Our sincere thanks to each and every one of you who have responded to these surveys. They have informed our discussions with the Scottish Government and industry colleagues and underpinned all of those conversations with empirical and incredibly valuable data.
- Our latest survey assessing the impact of the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 restrictions, last week, elicited 999 responses in 24 hours: Just 7% consider their business to be seasonal, whilst the vast majority 93% do not close over the winter in normal circumstances. This year the number of properties closed is noticeable, however. It is fair to say that there isn’t a seasonal effect for trading, but there is certainly a COVID-19 effect in play. 58% blame the One Household Rule restriction for being closed or about to close, or having a significant lack of bookings. 89% blame Travel Restrictions within Scotland, 86% blame Travel Restrictions from the rest of the UK and 55% blame International Travel Restrictions.
- The Strategic Framework Business Fund being provided by the Scottish Government offers financial support to businesses legally required to close or to modify their operations. Self-catering businesses in Levels 1&2 or 3, affected by travel restrictions and loss in demand are not eligible for this support. Self-catering businesses required to close in level 4 may be eligible for support if they meet the eligibility criteria. 70% of respondents feel that they need financial support in terms of a grant. Half of respondents stated that clear and timely communications from the Scottish Government to guests is needed.
- 77% of respondents feel pessimistic about their businesses over the next three months. This compares to September 2019, when 79% of the membership were either neutral or optimistic about business in the next 24 months, based on the ASSC Barometer.
Where are we?
- In terms of our organisation, the ASSC’s membership has grown significantly over the past year and now stands at over 1,100 professional and dedicated self-catering operators, further amplifying the voice of a sector that generates well over £723m to the Scottish economy per year.
- Our newly commissioned economic impact study will give us more up to date figures in the new year.
- I am hugely proud of what the small ASSC team of just three has achieved over the last nine months. We have had conversations late into the night; we have cried together and laughed together. The overtime put in by the team has been mesmerising, but throughout, it was driven by a passion and real commitment to support the self-catering sector.
- I would like to thank the ASSC Board, who continue to support the team and offer sage counsel.
- I need to thank our incredible public affairs team at Halogen Communications. They have been there at all hours of the day and night to offer advice and support, and to temper me when it all gets too much.
- And of course, thanks to Joyce at Crescent Events for leading the diversification from our annual conference, and creating, driving and delivering the ASSC’s Autumn Talks so seamlessly.
- I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by an incredible team, all of whom I consider to be real friends.
- The ASSC is nothing without its members, and we value every single one of you. I hope that you believe that we have addressed the very real issues that have affected your businesses over the last torrid months.
- We have also valued the support of our Partners for Business and Sponsors. We can’t function without them.
- Outside of the ASSC but within Scottish Tourism we have built some life-long connections and strengthened relationships already there. If there is one thing that is positive to come out of this pandemic it is a mutual respect for many industry colleagues fighting for Scottish Hospitality. Together we are stronger, and with common goals for the future we can rebuild a better and more resilient Tourism Economy in Scotland. I would like to thank those many colleagues who have supported the ASSC over the past year.
So what next?
- Over the course of the next few months, the sector will continue to respond to the Scottish Government’s plans to introduce a licensing system and control areas for short-term lets. With the experience we have gained, and relationships made, we are still trying our best to influence the regulations in a way that works for business, tourism and local communities. I had a private conversation with the First Minister about the proposals. We can’t have escalated our concerns any higher. I am absolutely confident that the ASSC could not have done any more. It’s not over – yet.
- Looking beyond regulations, there is a huge opportunity to remind the domestic market of the benefits of holidaying closer to home – providing benefits to local communities – as well as providing for the overseas market. We did it in July, and we will do it again. Our sector is primed and ready to bounce back first and fast.
- As an association, we will continue to do everything we can to support the self-catering sector in Scotland, as we have done since 1978.
- While there are and will be significant difficulties and challenges to overcome, I am proud that the ASSC and its members have led the way in the safe and responsible reopening of our sector; our professional operators will continue to strengthen the recovery of tourism post Covid-19, and help to build a sustainable future for our industry; and will work towards making Scotland a leader in 21st Century tourism for the benefit of all who live in and visit our country.
Read the full Chief Executive’s Report: CEOs Report 2020
On 8th December, following the ASSC AGM, we were joined by the Titans of Tartan Tourism – Marc Crothall, CEO, The Scottish Tourism Alliance and Riddell Graham, Director of Industry and Destination Development, VisitScotland together with Caroline Millar, Owner – The Hideaway Experience, CAS Millar Consulting and Scottish Agritourism, (Go Rural), this Question Time with Industry Leaders was a great opportunity to get the latest insights on tourism in Scotland as we look towards planning an opportunities in 2021. Watch the video here.
Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers
8th December 2020