Tourism and hospitality businesses facing uncertain season

Nick Fletcher of the Argyll Hotel in Bellochantuy.
Nick Fletcher of the Argyll Hotel in Bellochantuy, is feeling positive about the future despite the uncertainties.

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Kintyre’s hospitality and tourism business owners are facing up to the prospect of another Easter in lockdown.

Many operators whose businesses have been shut for months had been hoping to be able to reopen in time for Easter on April 4 as Scotland’s coronavirus vaccination programme rolls out, but the Scottish Government announced last Monday that hospitality is unlikely to reopen before April 26.

Even if lockdown is lifted at that stage, Scotland is likely to remain subject to level three coronavirus restrictions meaning travel should be for ‘essential reasons only’, with tourists specifically advised ‘not to travel in or out for holidays or visits’ to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Emma Macalister Hall, of Torrisdale Estate, which hosts self-catering accommodation and is the home of Beinn an Tuirc Distillers, said: ‘The vague announcement last Monday was hugely frustrating as we still can’t really plan for re-opening and if we’re put back into the tier system, it may not be worth it.

‘Our summer bookings for the holiday cottages are very good and we anticipate being busy in the summer but it really doesn’t help that Scotland’s plans are different from England which is our second biggest market.

‘Scottish policy isn’t reported widely in England either so many people south of the border are unaware that they can’t confidently book spring holidays.’

Emma Macalister Hall of Beinn an Tuirc Distillers.
Emma Macalister Hall of Beinn an Tuirc Distillers.

One Kintyre hotelier, who did not want to be named, said: ‘The lack of any opening date to work to in respect of advance bookings is a real problem. Guests are booking online, and trying to book over the phone, and there is no mechanism to advise them whether their reservation will be successful.

‘It would be much better to provide a date for hospitality opening fully – as the UK Government has done – even if this has to be changed at a later date. Everyone then knows where they stand, and can make plans. The current limbo situation stultifies hospitality providers and guests alike, and benefits no-one.’

Maurice Whelan and Steve Reid, who opened luxury guest house Carradales in 2018, said: ‘As a new business, we have taken a huge hit financially and mentally. We are extremely grateful for any assistance from central government but this is a short term ‘fix’ and, of course, will have to be paid back.

‘If the rest of the UK opens up its hospitality before Scotland, it is Scotland that will lose out financially and many more businesses will go to the wall. We are talking about people’s livelihoods and wellbeing. If other parts of the UK can open up, then why can’t Scotland?’

Steve Reid, left, and Maurice Whelan have been running Carradales guest house for more than a year.
Steve Reid, left, and Maurice Whelan have been running Carradales guest house for more than a year.

While sharing many of the concerns expressed, some business owners are feeling more positive about the season ahead.

Zofija Sloan, owner at Glenbarr Stores, said: ‘As we head into spring and the weather’s getting brighter, we’re looking forward to opening the doors to our café once again and welcoming visitors to the house at Glenbarr when restrictions are lifted – especially as more people choose a staycation over a foreign holiday this year.

‘With plenty of outdoor seating and some new, exciting menu options, we’re feeling well prepared for getting back into action and I’m sure our customers are ready to be able to go out for a coffee or a meal and a long overdue catch up with friends and family.

Zofija Sloan of Glenbarr Stores.
Zofija Sloan of Glenbarr Stores.

‘Whilst the past year has presented plenty of challenges, we’re optimistic that we’re nearing the end of the toughest restrictions and that things will bounce back, with tourism in the area driven by domestic visitors if not by travellers from further afield this summer.’

Nick Fletcher, of the Argyll Hotel in Bellochantuy, added: ‘It has been a difficult year for many in the hospitality and tourism sector but that is true also of many other sectors including hairdressers, shops and gyms. Even many businesses that are open will have felt the strain.

‘We are all living in hope of things improving from the end of April, but I expect it may be a slower process for hospitality to move back toward almost full re-opening. Thankfully, many in hospitality have been in receipt of support from the Scottish Government to help in weathering what has been a challenging time.

‘But now is the time, as a sector, to look ahead and try to reap something from the expected boom in the staycation market and also the raft of regulars queueing up to return to their favourite places.

‘We, in Kintyre, are trying to make sure hospitality, and through the spin-off spend from visitors, that other sectors benefit from this expanded market.

‘Over the coming months Explore Kintyre and Gigha, a voluntary group that works to promote tourism, will be promoting and launching the Kintyre 66.

‘This is a route which loops around Kintyre, showcasing what Kintyre has to offer from north to south and east to west.

‘From great places to stay, eat and drink, from shopping and leisure, from distilleries and food producers, from outdoor activities and the natural world or just somewhere to relax and unwind Kintyre has it all and we’ll be telling people.

‘We look forward to welcoming people to Kintyre in a safe way both for them and for all us living in Kintyre too, as we proved we could do in the late summer and autumn of last year.’