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‘Dream now – visit later’ – was the message from members of the Oban and Lorn Tourism Alliance at its annual general meeting.
Nearly 30 OLTA members met on Zoom on Friday as Scotland’s tourism and hospitality sectors reels from a collapse following COVID-19.
The meeting heard that ‘recovery and reopening’ would involve a tricky balance between concerns in tight-knit communities and a desperate need to reboot the local economy.
The meeting heard complaints about ‘huge numbers’ of motorcyclists appearing in Inverary and Oban in the wake of Scotland’s relaxation of the lockdown.
But it also heard that when the time is right, a major charm offensive would be needed following some of the more explicit ‘stay out of Scotland’ messages.
Keynote speaker was David Adams McGilp, a regional director for Argyll at national tourism authority Visit Scotland.
He said: ‘I have seen physical evidence, signs in some places that say ‘stay at home, go away, you’re not welcome. The visiting public will remember those messages long after this crisis is over, so that can be quite damaging.’
Comments about a ‘perceived hostility’ towards visitors had also been received by Linda Battison, OLTA’s marketing director.
She said: ‘I think we really must be extremely careful with what language is used. Obviously, we are all part of our local community and it’s extremely important we take the local community along with us on our road to recovery and to reopening.
‘Tourism is absolutely crucial in our area – it is the most important industry – but clearly we don’t want to open any earlier than is safe to do so. Dream now, visit later is the message.’
The meeting heard that ‘draft protocols’ setting out how tourism comes back from the brink are due before the Scottish and UK Governments soon.
But Mr Adams McGilp said: ‘I’ve not got a crystal ball. I can’t predict what the timeline will be or what the final set of agreed protocols will be.
‘It’s likely that, for example, maybe only half of rooms will be able to be occupied. Or it’s possible that there will be a longer delay in changeovers. You may not be able to do a changeover on the same day.’
He expects tourism to return inch-by-inch with day-trippers allowed first, then regional visitors, then visitors from wider Scotland followed by visitors from the wider UK and Ireland.
It is possible ‘northern European neighbours’ could return too, but much depended on the impact of the 14-day quarantine rule, he explained.
Major markets vital to Scottish tourism, like the USA, may not return until next year, said Mr Adams McGilp.
‘Nobody thinks the long-haul markets will reappear in any significant numbers until 2021. That’s assuming the majority of the world’s airlines survive,’ he told members.
Timetables for reopening remain uncertain but there are hopes of a possible announcement from the Scottish Government in mid-June and a possible reopening in ‘mid-July,’ according to Loch Melfort hotelier Calum Ross, a director of the Argyll and the Isles Tourism Co-operative Ltd.