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Oban tourism businesses are facing up to another Easter lockdown.
Operators which have been shut for months had been hoping for news of an Easter reopening as Scotland’s coronavirus vaccination programme rolls out.
But the season curtain-raiser is off the cards after the Scottish Government said hospitality is unlikely to reopen before April 26 – more than seven weeks away.
Linda Battison, marketing director with the Oban and Lorn Tourism Alliance (OLTA), said the tourism sector fully accepted that health and safety had to come first.
However, tourism continued to face a lack of certainty and the ‘tone’ of Scotland’s route out of lockdown had not inspired confidence across the sector, she said.
Her own feeling is that Scotland is unlikely to open up tourism before England.
That could means destinations such as Oban and the Isles struggling to catch-up as visitors desperate for breaks book elsewhere.
Ms Battison said: ‘Easter is really the biggest part of the season for many businesses.
‘We lost Christmas and all the trade that generated for pubs and accommodation and if we lose Easter as well some businesses are facing the prospect of five winters because all this started just before Easter last year and some had been in winter mode.’
Even if lockdown is lifted at the end of April, Scotland will still be subject to level three coronavirus restrictions, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has indicated.
As they stand, level three restrictions specify that travel should be for ‘essential reasons only’.
Tourists are specifically advised ‘not to travel in or out for holidays or visits’ – to help prevent the spread of Covid.
The government will provide further updates in mid-March and there is the possibility that level three restrictions might be redrawn.
There are concerns that the only prospect of visitors is people from Argyll and Bute having breaks within Argyll and Bute.
Ms Battison said: ‘We are now completely reliant on domestic visitors and we not going to get any international visitors.
‘Domestic tourism in Oban is 70 per cent and the biggest element of that is English tourists and from the central belt.
‘Even if we reopen to level three at the end of April it doesn’t help, unless people in Kintyre want to have a holiday here, which is not viable.’
She added: ‘There are big employers facing huge costs to stay shut. We will just have to keep our fingers crossed – we will get through this, and we are hopeful that summer is strong and we will not have lost all our visitors.’
Andy Spence, chief executive of BID4Oban, said more clarity was expected in due course and for now, it remained a waiting game.
‘Everyone is just waiting to see what is happening and we can now start to make some sort of arrangements because we know that April is a key time for us and gives businesses an opportunity to start planning,’ he said.