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Coronavirus / Tourism recovery likely to get underway next month

‘Indicative’ date depends on continued suppression of virus

The Shetland tourist office in Lerwick. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland NewsPhoto: Shetland News

TOURISM bosses in Shetland have welcomed news that the Scottish Government is preparing to reopen the sector in mid-July, although confirmation of a new Covid-19 case in Shetland – the first since 20 April – is likely seen as a setback.

The date was revealed in a Scottish Parliamentary statement on tourism today with minister for the sector Fergus Ewing saying that tourism and leisure should prepare for an “indicative” 15 July re-opening. More details will emerge with the anticipated announcement of phase two of recovery from lockdown next Thursday.

Ewing said that the opening up of the sector would accompany an easing of travel restrictions and businesses would have time to prepare suitable distancing and other measures, such as wearing of PPE.

He said that “our tourism and hospitality sector has been devastated” by Covid-19. Businesses had gone from “anticipating another bumper tourism season this summer to seeing their income drop to zero almost overnight”.

Ewing was involved in the launch of a 10-year tourism strategy at the start of March, just before coronavirus hit Scotland.

Scottish energy minister Fergus EwingTourism minister Fergus Ewing.

He added: “The Covid-19 crisis has been devastating for the industry, but we must look to rebuild the sector and to begin welcoming visitors once again.”

He said: “On that basis and on the clear understanding with the industry that nothing can be absolutely guaranteed at this stage and that we may need to change this date if the evidence requires it, we would encourage tourism and hospitality businesses to prepare – within appropriate safety guidelines – for re-opening on 15 July.”

VisitScotland Shetland manager Steve Mathieson said that though details were scanty it was “good that we have actually got some positive news.”

Mathieson added: “It is good news that we have a provisional date to work to for when we may be able to resume opening of businesses, because nothing is definite at the moment”.

Mathieson said that it was essential to make sure tourism businesses had “the right information to be able to open safely” and it was also important to make sure a resumption of tourism could be undertaken with the support and safety of the community in mind.

“It is not just the businesses but communities being ready for this. We have to follow the medical advice and make sure that everything we do, we do it safely,” he added.

Shetland Tourism Association chairwoman Emma Miller said that much more information was needed and hoped it would be made available in time to prepare the sector.

She added that guidance for the retail sector had been made timeously and shops and hairdressers and so forth were just waiting for the green light. She hoped for the same with tourism.

“It is brilliant news because it gives folk something to work towards. It is the hurry up and wait thing that’s really frustrating for lots of folk,” Miller added.

Ferry operator NorthLink has been cancelling all non-essential bookings up to 26 July, a strategy that may well be reviewed in the light of the latest announcement – while Loganair recently started to sell flights to Edinburgh and Glasgow as of 6 July in anticipation of these changes.

Loganair chief executive Jonathan Hinkles. Photo: Shetland News

Airline chief executive Jonathan Hinkles said on Thursday afternoon: “The cabinet secretary’s announcement is incredible helpful to allowing people plan and book.

“There have a lot of people been looking online. We have seen Internet search activity being up quite significantly. And if this now gives people who have been looking the certainty that they need to go ahead and book, then hopefully there will be still a tourism season.”

Answering questions after his parliamentary statement, Ewing said that the Scottish Government was working hard to ensure that lifeline ferry services continued to meet the needs of the local community as well as visitors.

Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie, who raised the question said: “The reopening of the tourism industry will of course put pressure on our ferries, presently operating an essential-lifeline-timetable service, so I am pleased that the Cabinet Secretary was able to acknowledge this point and will ensure that the residents of our islands will not be disadvantaged as we seek to reopen the islands for visitors.”