Marc Crothall: Time to lift barriers and let tourism compete

November will see Scotland welcome the world to the shores of the Clyde and beyond for the much-anticipated COP26. The world’s spotlight will shine again on our country, people, assets and ambition; Scotland has an outstanding track record in hosting dynamic world-class events, conferences and sporting championships with legacy benefits which travel far and wide across all four corners of the nation.

There’s no doubt that the time is now and that a huge amount of work is happening to get Scotland ready for this globally important event but are we in the shape we should be, need to be and want to be?

It seems unimaginable to think of where we were a few months ago; empty streets, closed businesses, distanced doorstop conversations and the darkest cloud of financial worry, particularly for our tourism sector.

The anticipated opportunities that came with reopening were quickly dashed with our sector lurching straight into an intense recruitment crisis, compounded by the ‘pingdemic’ which has seen the majority of businesses in our sector unable to open fully, trade viably and struggling to provide the type of service we’re so proud to deliver.

It’s been a difficult summer; you only need to take a brief scroll through your social media timeline and you’ll find that two days of the week you may not be able to order breakfast in your choice of restaurant because there aren’t enough staff to deliver a full service or you’ll perhaps get a table for dinner but it might be outside because inside’s closed due to a staff member contracting the virus. Yes, we are open for business, but there’s a very big difference in trading and trading well.

While businesses are taking a huge hit in relation to compromised opening and service delivery, they’re also dealing with increased costs; repayments on loans which were taken out during the peak of the crisis, VAT repayments, increased supplier costs, the costs of recruitment, administration, regulation, utilities and the added costs that Brexit has brought home to roost. The costs of coming to Scotland and staying here do nothing to improve our competitiveness as a destination; Air Passenger Duty remains one of the highest in Europe, rail fares have increased and we have to ask ourselves, are we consistently delivering value for money? Are we able to?

The short-term impact on businesses in our sector is evident but what about the longer term? How can we make the investment needed to ensure that Scotland is able to compete on the global stage and realise the vision set out in our Tourism Strategy, that ‘Scotland will be a leader in 21st century tourism’. Much uncertainty exists around the potential imposition of future restrictions, which impacts our ability to invest and with businesses currently running just to stand still, the money simply isn’t there.

Our ambition is clear; we are a sector with resilient, determined, forward thinking and immensely hard-working people. Our businesses are mentally and physically exhausted – it’s been a long 18 months but we’re motivated by the bigger picture. We want the very best for Scotland’s reputation, our businesses, staff and for Scotland’s people. Tourism is a force for good; it can stimulate economic wealth across our country and communities and bring the inward investment Scotland so needs and deserves. The time to remove barriers to our competitiveness as a tourism destination on a macro and micro level is now, with continued support for the sector and the creation of policies which will see our industry thrive in addition to the removal of existing and proposed policies that will see our businesses struggle to survive.

The time to recognise our capabilities and ambition as a sector is now and as they say, if not now, when?

Marc Crothall is chief executive of Scottish Tourism Alliance

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992