Tourism faces ‘five years to recover’

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addresses the annual general meeting of the Scottish Tourism Alliance.

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A new £25 million tourism package has been announced by the First Minister today amid forecasts the sector could take five years to recover.

Nicola Sturgeon revealed the sum during a special address at this morning’s annual spring conference of the Scottish Tourism Alliance. Held virtually this year, attendance  was three times higher than last year with upwards of 1,500 participants.

It included representatives from Oban, Port Appin, Fort William, Tyndrum, Argyll and Bute, the Highlands and Islands, as well as Arran and Ayrshire. Many other destinations across Scotland took part, with observers in London, Ireland, America, Canada and Australia – underlining Scotland’s global status as a tourism destination.

Miss Sturgeon told delegates that she did not underestimate how ‘horrendously difficult’ the last year had been and praised the sector’s ‘resilience, adaptability, ingenuity, and patience’ in helping drive down coronavirus.

She said ‘something much more closer to normality’ was now firmly in sight and while looking beyond a couple of months remained difficult, she confirmed the return of ‘tourism and domestic travel’ from April 26.

Miss Sturgeon said the £25 million tourism recovery package – developed in partnership with the sector – would help ‘stimulate demand’ in domestic tourism, including outside the peak periods as tourism chiefs pray for a strong autumn and winter as well as a busy summer.

The fund will also support international marketing efforts so that when international travel does resume, Scotland would be at the ‘top of people’s lists’ as a place to visit, the First Minister explained.

She added the coronavirus restrictions had created a huge ‘pent-up’ demand for travel, with Scotland now likely to prove very popular with visitors from all over the UK as restrictions ease, although sustainability was key.

She added: ‘Thanks to all of you for your hard work during this past, really difficult year, and thank you for the incredible contribution that you make to our country as we all look forward with hope now to much better times ahead.’

Marc Crothall, chief executive, thanked businesses for taking part in the meeting and urged them to work together to rebuild Scotland’s tourism sector.

‘We can still be world leaders in 21st-century tourism,’ he said.

The funding announced by the First Minister would be committed to 10 ‘immediate priority’ short-term recovery proposals, he said.

Mr Crothall said a tourism task force, consisting of 40 leading figures from the industry, had compiled a recommendations report in summer which was then approved by the Scottish Government cabinet in December, leading to the sign-off the £25m fund.

He said the second phase of the tourism recovery plan would see a further ‘set of actions’ presented to the government for funding support at the end of May.

Phase three would involve continuing to ‘review and adjust’ the recovery plan beyond June and towards the 2030 agenda, he said.

‘Over the five years that we now need to rebuild – which we believe will be the time it will take to actually find our pathway back on to a more normal route of growing tourism numbers back to what it was pre-19, that pathway has started already,’ he said.