Business at risk

Island tourism firms angry over reopening ‘confusion’

The islands are desperate for visitors

Up to a third of tourism businesses across Scotland’s islands say continued uncertainty over a date for reopening could force them to close.

A lack of clarity from the Scottish government has led to a wave of cancellations from visitors, many of whom are switching to alternative holidays on the mainland.

Rob McKinnon, CEO of Outer Hebrides Tourism, said Government emails today confirmed there is “No definitive timescale or specific dates” for the islands.  

“The islands do not know how they will be treated, with only a vague commitment to respond in a ‘couple of weeks’,” he said.

There is particular concern that a ban on non-essential travel between the mainland and the islands will continue.

“As well as tourism, this has been met with dismay by many islanders who are desperate to be reunited with relatives on the mainland, by our young folk who are just as keen as their mainland peers to spread their wings after an extended lockdown, and by our local authorities who can see the damage that is being done by this two-tier approach,” said Mr McKinnon.

“It is particularly surprising from a Government that has extolled its legislation promising equal and fair treatment of the islands in everything it does.”

Tourism businesses from across the island groups met today to demand a level playing field from the Scottish Government on arrangements to end Scotland’s lockdown.

“The approach taken has already caused unnecessary confusion and millions of pounds of damage.  By acting quickly the Government can stop the situation becoming even worse.  However, we are worried, that with an election in progress, this is dominating minds in Holyrood.

“A failure to provide any robust reasons why the islands have been selected for special treatment, against a background of falling case numbers, major progress with vaccinations is adding to frustrations.

“We are told that arrangements in place for the mainland are not safe for the islands, despite operating successfully on the islands last summer without widespread transmission between the local and visitor populations.  

“We are calling for the Government to end its discrimination against our islands and urgently clarify arrangements for opening of the Scottish Islands.”

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, added: “Tourism is critical to our island economies; the impact of current restrictions has been severe across our island communities.  Many hundreds of island businesses are members of the STA either directly or through membership of their sectoral or destination organisations

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“All have told us directly that they would not wish to remain out of kilter with the mainland lockstep approach, in fact quite the opposite.  

“If businesses in our islands can’t follow the same approach as the mainland, the impact will be more severe than may be understood currently. 

“Businesses will lose trade to mainland businesses, people will choose to visit other destinations leading quickly to business failure, significant unemployment and an economic and social crisis within our island communities.”

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