Kintyre tourism businesses fear for the future

From left: Iain Johnston, Niall Macalister Hall and Nick Fletcher of Explore Kintyre and Gigha.
From left: Iain Johnston, Niall Macalister Hall and Nick Fletcher of Explore Kintyre and Gigha.

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More than 75 per cent of the tourism business owners who are members of Explore Kintyre and Gigha (EKG) fear their companies could go bust by the end of the year if current coronavirus restrictions remain in place.

Destination marketing organisation EKG carried out a survey of its more than 80 members, who either rely on tourism for their income or gain some benefit from tourism, to compile a report for the Scottish Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee.

On April 28, the committee launched an appeal for views on the impact of COVID-19 on Scotland’s culture and tourism sectors, asking for the concerns of people, organisations and businesses within the industry.

EKG’s survey report, submitted to the committee this week, reveals that the group’s members have been ‘hit hard’ in recent months, with 80 per cent of businesses closed at the time of completing the survey. Of the 20 per cent that remained open, eight per cent were operating with major changes such as offering a takeaway service only, or providing some accommodation for key workers on a restricted basis.

This has resulted in ‘a significant loss of income’ in the local economy, with 32 per cent of businesses having lost more than £40,000 of income in the two months from March 23 to May 23, and a further 24 per cent having lost between £20,000 and £40,000.

‘This is likely to equate to a loss to the local economy of over £600,000 in two months,’ the report reads.

The report also reveals that members have ‘real concerns over business sustainability’ with more than 20 per cent of business owners fearing they would not survive into August under current restrictions. A further 30 per cent could not see themselves making it beyond October.

‘Kintyre could lose 50 per cent of its hospitality businesses by the end of October,’ the report reads. ‘By Christmas it could be more than 75 per cent. This would have devastating impacts on the local economy and on employment.

‘While it is difficult for the Scottish Government to give any certainties, the hospitality sector really needs some clarity in the roadmap as to when it may begin to re-open.

‘The need to be able to get an increase in bookings before the winter is imperative for the survival of many in the sector.’

The report outlines a number of actions EKG believes the government could take which would make ‘a real difference’ in determining what kind of tourism, cultural and hospitality industry Kintyre has in the future.

These include: further financial support in the form of grants to help ensure the sustainability of many businesses in the sector; further action on the Job Retention Scheme if re-opening is to be delayed until September; action to be taken on behalf of the sector to assist with some of the current financial pressures; help for business preparing for the ‘new normal’, including guidance on social distancing, PPE and hygiene for staff and customers; further financial assistance packages for festivals and other cultural events that have lost money as the result of having to cancel events or close; mental health support for business owners; encouraging VisitScotland to embark on a major campaign across the UK promoting visits to and holidaying in Scotland; and clear timelines for re-opening with plenty of notice.

The report concludes: ‘Action by the UK and Scottish governments has been welcome and ensured the initial survival of many businesses forced to cease trading. However, this is a very trying time for the sector and decisions or actions by the UK and Scottish governments over the next couple of months could be critical in determining what kind of sector we have left.

‘Will it be one that we can rebuild or will it be left decimated? Will we see scores of businesses close in Kintyre, with subsequent dramatic impacts on local employment – in an area which has seen significant job losses pre the COVID era, with the closure of Campbeltown Creamery and redundancies at CS Wind, both major employers – and on the local economy, which has a significant reliance on tourism?’