Tourism industry forced to pivot during pandemic

In a year like no other, the holiday snaps being shared by friends and family on social media are another reminder of what we are doing differently in 2020.

We no longer need to snooze status updates from colleagues posting too many pics of cocktails on Mediterranean beaches and it’s been a while since I saw my own personal favourite – Scottish people enjoying their first holiday drink at the airport…at 7am.

What we do have is a growing appreciation of the holiday options available right here in Scotland, with newsfeeds full of stunning Scottish islands and seaside adventures on the east coast. I’m not exaggerating when I say that everybody I know has taken a trip to Fife this year.

And it’s those staycation trips that offer a glimmer of hope for our hard-hit Scottish tourism industry.

That was one of the key messages coming through from our second travel & tourism webinar, which brought together almost 100 representatives from the industry to hear tourism leaders talk about how businesses can tackle the many challenges ahead.

It was particularly useful for those who attended to hear insights from Marc Crothall, CEO of the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) and Barbara Clark, head of strategic communications at VisitScotland.

The inescapable reality remains that the industry is under immense pressure. The uncertainty of restrictions which change on a weekly basis; the end of the furlough scheme; and the collapse of international tourism all create a perfect storm of difficult trading conditions for businesses operating in Scotland’s once thriving tourism sector.

Marc spoke of the importance of businesses within the industry coming together to share their experiences so that bodies such as the STA could represent them in dialogue with policy makers.  He outlined some of the issues the STA is continuing to push on, including an extension to the VAT reduction currently in place for tourism and the need for bespoke grant support, recognising the prevailing view across tourism is that the new Job Support Scheme is not fit for purpose for this sector.

Barbara acknowledged that the Scottish tourism sector has never experienced anything as challenging as the Covid-19 pandemic but was able to share insights from VisitScotland research that indicated positive developments in the staycation market. It found that people in the UK do want to travel but their needs and preferences have changed. Visitors are looking for reassurance that operators are taking health and safety seriously and they want flexibility regarding last minute bookings and cancellations.

It was acknowledged that travel and tourism companies need to adapt their messages for the domestic market and for the current situation. An online presence is a must – customers expect to be able to view and book accommodation online and often get their recommendations from social media.

After Devon & Cornwall, Scotland is the top destination for UK holidaymakers looking for a staycation. The future the tourism industry may be extremely challenging. but that growing market offers a lifeline for businesses if they can get their messages out there.

The resilience of the industry and the undeniable contribution that it makes not only to the economy, but to the health and wellbeing of the country, were identified as positives in future.

Barbara reminded us that tourism is one of the few industries that reaches into and benefits every single corner of Scotland.

And as Marc concluded: “Our industry is resilient. People will always want to eat, drink and travel.”

Elaine Brewer – Senior Account Manager