Tourism meeting hears concerns about future

Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross meets Donald Cameron MSP in Oban.

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The leader of the Scottish Conservatives has met with local tourism businesses to discuss their concerns.

Douglas Ross MP held a discussion via Zoom to hear about the future of the sector from a Highlands and Islands perspective.

Among those taking part were representatives from the Oban, Lorn Tourism Alliance (OLTA), and the Heart of Argyll Tourism Alliance.

After the event, Mr Ross said it was clear that hospitality and tourism businesses in rural areas had been among the hardest hit by the pandemic.

‘This meeting with local stakeholders was invaluable to listen to their concerns and discuss what further support is required,’ he said.

‘It is clear the SNP Government need to do more in order to safeguard jobs and livelihoods in these vital sectors.’

Victoria Winters, a volunteer for the Heart of Argyll Tourism Alliance, said the discussion was welcomed.

She said: ‘The meeting was an excellent opportunity to have an open discussion about the current crisis.’

She said issues included official guidance being published at the last minute, the impact of Tier restrictions, and smaller hotels and ‘portfolio’ businesses which are typical of the rural economy not fitting into categories for support.

She said they also touched on wider challenges that will affect our future economy such as crumbling infrastructure – ‘literally, in the case of the A83.’

Also taking part was Donald Cameron MSP, the shadow health secretary at Holyrood and a Highlands and Islands MSP.

He said: ‘The feedback was very clear that while the furlough scheme has been a big help, too many businesses are missing out on other forms of assistance.

‘A common complaint is that the Scottish Government’s approach is too focused on the needs of big business in the Central Belt, and that smaller, independent family-run firms, especially hotels which are so important here in the Highlands and Islands, are falling between the cracks.

‘Tourism and hospitality is simply too important for the Highlands and Islands economy to be allowed to wither away, and Holyrood needs to wake up to the scale of the challenge we are facing here.’

The Scottish Government was approached for a comment.

Mr Ross added that Rishi Sunak, chancellor to the UK Government, had stepped up and delivered an extra £1.7 billion of funding to Scotland in recent weeks.

‘That’s money the SNP need to deliver to businesses immediately, in order to protect jobs that are at risk and to ensure these businesses survive,’ said Mr Ross.

However, in a separate intervention, Brian Wilson, a former Scottish Labour Party MP and chairman of Harris Tweed Hebrides, has called on the UK Government to abandon plans to end tax-free shopping for international visitors from the end of the year.

Mr Wilson, who lives on the Isle of Lewis and is a former UK trade minister under Tony Blair, has written to Mr Sunak.

He said that with retail and the supply sector ‘reeling under the effects’ of coronavirus and the ‘decimation’ of international tourism, it was ‘frankly, incomprehensible,’ to be thinking about getting rid of tax-free shopping.

He pointed out that the proposed measure would leave the UK as the only place in the EU not to offer it.

‘Since shopping is invariably quoted in every survey as one of the primary attractions for overseas visitors to the UK, it is difficult to see why you would want to discourage it in this way,’ wrote Mr Wilson.