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Tourism leaders representing Oban and Lorn have spoken of ‘overwhelming relief’ at the announcement to prepare for reopening on July 15.
Fergus Ewing MSP, cabinet member for tourism and the rural economy, said the date was ‘provisional’ and certain tests needed to be met first.
But the news that tourism can start again – more than 16 weeks after lockdown was announced – has been widely welcomed by the industry.
Neil Mackay, chairman of the Oban and Lorn Tourism Alliance (OLTA), said: ‘All tourism businesses have been calling for a firm date to work towards. Everyone understands that we will only be able to open with the necessary enhanced cleaning protocols and social distancing measures in place.’
Mr Mackay added: ‘Businesses will have to put new procedures in place, bring staff back from furlough, re-establish supply chains and open booking calendars. All these things take time as they have to be done properly for visitors and locals to have confidence that opening the tourism industry will not increase the risk to health and wellbeing.’
Linda Battison, OLTA marketing director, added: ‘Our members have been hit hard by the lockdown and while this is a huge step forward, OLTA will
be taking baby steps with our marketing messages as we wait for further details of who can travel, how far and what restrictions might apply.
‘There will be no sudden rush to promote our area, but we know that our scenery, tranquillity and relative remoteness will appeal to those who have been locked down and struggling with limited access to fresh air and outdoor space.
‘We’ve great walks, cycles trails and beaches and our coastal waters are second to none for kayaking, sailing and swimming. It will be a pleasure to share these natural assets with others from further afield, but it can only be with all the necessary safety precautions in place and a continued fall in the R (reproduction) number across Scotland.’
Andy Spence is the chief executive of BID4Oban, a business group representing 527 local firms which includes around 150 of which are ‘heavily reliant’ on tourism. These include B&Bs, hotels, bars, restaurants and and self-catering providers.
Mr Spence said: ‘The date is provisional and dependent on the R-number but we are delighted that we are now starting to see the first steps to getting tourism businesses kick-started, albeit at a cautious pace.’
Mr Spence said businesses faced a range of measures to implement before visitors can come back. He said tourism expected a ‘slow’ return.
The BID group expects to take delivery on Monday June 15 of a range of new banners, stickers, floor graphics and tape to enable businesses to advise their customers of social distancing requirements.
They are aimed at helping customers maintain social distancing, improving hand hygiene and respecting the new rules.
Donald Cameron, MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said: ‘Ministers need to follow up, and get on the front foot, so that the necessary preparations for rescuing some of the summer season can take place.
‘It will need to be done with due care so as to reassure communities in the more remote parts of the region that the necessity for preventing any possible spread of the virus is also taken into account.’