Oban tourism ‘can’t just rely on a busy summer’

A flashback to Ganavan Sands in June 2020 when lockdown was lifted.

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A tourism group has cautiously welcomed the Scottish Government’s announcement about the gradual move out of lockdown.

Travel restrictions throughout Scotland are set to be lifted from April 26 which has seen interest start to rise from Scottish visitors for summer breaks across Oban and Lorn, although phones are not yet ‘ringing off the hooks’.

Travel between the different UK nations – including England – could also start again on or before that date, but remains subject to a review next month, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.

And travel to the Scottish islands also remains subject to further talks as some communities may require restrictions to prevent the importation of coronavirus, she added, while there is no certainty yet on the return of international visitors to Scotland with a third wave now being seen in some parts of Europe.

Linda Battinson, marketing director with the Oban and Lorn Tourism Alliance, said the reopening of tourism had to be done ‘safely and cautiously’ and it was better to take time now, rather than opening too quickly and risking a third lockdown.

While OLTA expects a ‘strong’ summer, a successful July and August would not be sufficient for local businesses to make up for the cancellations of 2020 and having to miss bumper dates in the tourism calendar, such as two Easters.

Ms Battison said: ‘We are delighted we now have a date to open because the concern has always been that no date had been given and no one could plan anything. It’s a good start knowing we are going to be able to welcome back Scottish visitors, which is great.’

She added: ‘We’ve certainly seen bookings coming in for the summer months as people are now confident they can book their summer breaks and everyone is pretty confident we will be busy for the summer season.

‘Hopefully, we will get a strong staycation market, although a lot of bookings made for this Easter will now have to be cancelled and refunded and it is going to be challenging because we have missed the most busiest period of the year.’

The success of tourism locally depended on visitors from other parts of the UK, like England, she said, along with international visitors – those two markets still lacked clarity on precisely when they could return.

Given the UK Government’s timeline, she expected it to be around mid-May when English visitors might be able to return, and that Scotland could see interest rise from  international visitors much later in the year. Operators this time would need plenty of visitors in the ‘shoulder months’ of autumn and winter as well as summer alone would not be enough, she said.