Tourism industry's shock at Easter break warning

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image captionTourism businesses around Loch Ness have been "cautiously" preparing for the Easter holidays

Tourism businesses say they have been left reeling after a warning from the first minister that it was "highly unlikely" holiday accommodation would reopen for the Easter holidays.

Nicola Sturgeon has advised people against booking a break in Scotland or overseas at the start of April.

In her Covid update statement to MSPs at Holyrood on Tuesday, she said it was "hard to overstate the necessity of being careful, cautious and gradual as we exit this lockdown".

Ms Sturgeon said this meant continuing to abide by "stay-at-home" rules.

She said the possibility of summer holidays would depend on infection rates and the risks posed by new variants of the virus.

The Scottish government hopes to publish a "revised strategic framework" next week which will set out how Scotland can exit lockdown and what conditions will need to be met before restrictions can be eased.

'It's scrapped'

Willie Cameron, of Loch Ness Marketing, said local tourism businesses had "more or less" accepted there would be no overseas visitors this Easter.

But he said they had been "cautiously" organising bookings from within Scotland, and first minister's statement had come as a shock.

Mr Cameron said: "Our businesses were getting all prepared for some form of localised home-stay holidays.

"I fully sympathise with, and I realise the government has got to be cautious, but to say don't book, well that is it. It's (Easter holidays) scrapped.

"It has completely taken the guillotine down on it."

Mr Cameron said there was also uncertainty now over short breaks in May - the next opportunity for tourism before the summer holidays.

He said he hoped the Scottish government's revised strategic framework would provide the industry with some optimism.

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Anne MacDonald, co-owner of The Spey B&B in Grantown on Spey in the Cairngorms, said her business had bookings for April and May - many of them carried over from last year when the start of the pandemic shut down the tourism industry.

Mrs MacDonald said the biggest shock from the first minister's statement was that there was no guarantee of staycations even in the summer.

Last summer, following a relaxation of restrictions in July, some parts of the Highlands saw a return of some tourism.

'Just terrible'

Mrs MacDonald said: "2020 was a bad enough season as it was. 2021 is just going to be terrible.

"We had hoped it was going to be better. We added a self-catering apartment because so many people were self-catering last year and we thought it would supplement our business."

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image captionStaycations in Scotland were possible last summer

Tamasina Cassidy, who runs the Rowan Tree Hotel and Restaurant in Aviemore, said she also had bookings for Easter.

She said: "We are really disappointed. We were hoping to be open for 1 April."

But she added: "If it means a relatively restriction-free summer and we can trade as we did last summer that would be amazing."

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said many businesses were "extremely anxious".

He said: "I know of numerous businesses who are wholly reliant on being able to trade again at Easter in order to stay solvent; today's indication that this is highly unlikely will I know serve as a crushing blow to many."

Mr Crothall said businesses appreciated the need to supress Covid-19. He said: "Scotland's tourism industry continues to be 100% aligned to the health agenda.

"Our businesses are committed to opening in a safe and secure way, giving customers confidence as a result of the level of financial investment which has been adopted across the sector."

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs on Tuesday: "We are likely to advise against booking Easter holidays, either overseas or within Scotland, as it is highly unlikely that we will have been able to fully open hotels or self-catering accommodation by then.

"However, for the summer, while it is still highly unlikely that overseas holidays will be possible or advisable, staycations might be - but this will depend on the data nearer the time."