Highlands & Islands

Uncertainty over future of Scottish tourism after Brexit


Hotels, restaurants and historic attractions in the north of Scotland have just enjoyed a bumper season - but there is uncertainty about the future of the tourism industry following the Brexit vote.

Willie Cameron, who runs a range of hospitality businesses in the Highlands, believes the fact that the pound tanked against the Euro following the EU referendum has benefited the sector in the short-term.

But its long-term repercussions are more uncertain.

A recent survey suggested that more than a quarter of EU nationals - normally the most loyal and lucrative visitors - would be less likely to holiday here because of the vote to leave.

Mr Cameron said: "In the short term it's extremely good as far as the tourism industry is concerned.

"However, in the long term we don't know what's going to happen and this is where the big question mark regarding tourism generally is concerned - we're entering very, very uncertain times."

Any potential investment in the industry is being "put on the back burner", he added.

"There are no decisions being made, there's no indication of decisions being made, it is very worrying."

Part of that uncertainty surrounds the attitude of potential EU visitors. Would they really turn their backs on the UK as a holiday destination as a recent poll suggests?

Simon Calder, travel editor of The Independent, said: "It is not unreasonable for people on the continent to feel a bit miffed with the result of the EU vote.

"Effectively we were saying, 'We don't want to play' and therefore, of course, there will be a number of people who will say, 'Right, well if you don't want to be part of our great economic experiment, then we don't want to come on holiday to your country'.

"I think a bigger worry, actually, are people who will infer for some reason - maybe all the rhetoric that was going on at the time of the referendum - that somehow they'll need a visa to come to Scotland.

"It's very unlikely that the traditional Scottish markets will need that but it might deter some people."

The numbers of tourists coming to Scotland's shores is just one side of the coin.

Increasingly, the staff serving them in the cafes and making the beds in the hotels are from other EU states, especially eastern and central Europe.

Restaurant worker Erik Harrmann, from the Czech Republic, said he was shocked and baffled by the Brexit vote.

"I was surprised. We all thought that Britain would remain. Yes, it was like shock for us, for all of us," he said.

His colleague, Julie Barbusinova, added: "I was so sad. Everybody was sad in work."

Many observers reckon foreign seasonal workers are the backbone of the tourist industry here.

George Stone runs a programme which has brought hundreds into the Highlands in recent years and he has real concerns about what might happen if there is a hard-line approach to such immigration.

"They form a huge part of the workforce in the hotels," he said.

"And it's not just in the unskilled jobs that don't require a language, but the waitresses and, to an increasing extent, the people in the kitchen, not just washing the dishes but preparing the meals, are coming from Europe, particularly the central European countries.

"There are going to be two sets of losers. First of all, the young, dynamic people from places like the Czech Republic but also my friends, the hotel owners and managers here in the north of Scotland.

"It will be difficult for them to replace the staff from other sources."

The Scottish tourist trade is just one sector still trying to find out what exactly Brexit will mean for them.