Coronavirus: Scottish ag tourism set to be first to reopen

The Scottish government has announced proposals for agri-tourism businesses to reopen from 15 July in a further relaxation of Covid-19 lockdown measures.

Tourism secretary Fergus Ewing said that proposed date remained dependent on public health advice and a continued decline in coronavirus cases.

Mr Ewing also announced that a Scottish Recovery Tourism Taskforce would be created to assist with the process.

See also: How diversified businesses are coping with lockdown

The taskforce will review the sector’s recovery needs and the development of a new domestic visitor marketing campaign.

It is an additional measure to the £2.3bn business support package, which includes options for a full year’s non-domestic rates relief and specific grant schemes.

Good step forward

The latest moves have been welcomed by farming and landowner groups.

NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick said the announcement provided clarity for those involved in Scotland’s buoyant agritourism sector.

“Agritourism is the cornerstone of visitor and tourism economies in many of Scotland’s rural areas and has seen significant expansion in the past decade.

“While some ventures have qualified for government support, the financial losses already incurred are significant, with a knock-on effect for the wider rural economy,” Mr McCornick said.

He acknowledged that some self-catering businesses would be disappointed by a six-week wait because they felt social distancing would already have been achievable.

And he echoed calls by the Scottish government for Westminster to put in place a fully funded tourism recovery plan.

Landowner organisation Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) also welcomed Mr Ewing’s announcement.

Stephen Young, head of policy at SLE, quoted a recent survey which showed 90% of 250 respondents felt they were well-equipped to reopen safely.

Mr Young suggested that the organisation would prefer to see self-catering or caravan sites open earlier if possible.

He also welcomed Mr Ewing’s call for a review of VAT applied to UK holiday accommodation to help ease the financial losses already incurred.

“Countries across Europe have seen their tourism sector grow, leading to significant job creation, through cutting rates of VAT and increasing competitiveness in the process.

“This is something Scotland and the UK should be looking to capitalise on as more people plan their staycations in the near future,” Mr Young said.

What about England and Wales?

Elsewhere in Great Britain, moves towards a reopening of rural tourism are also being discussed.

Welsh economy minister Ken Skates said he “hopes to be able to say something positive” for the tourism industry when lockdown restrictions are reviewed in July.

Mr Skates singled out 9 July as a possible date for that decision. 

In England, holiday businesses must remain closed until at least 4 July.

From that date, the government aim is to start reopening hospitality businesses where the risk of transmission is lowest.

However, that timing is again provisional on reductions in Covid-19 case numbers and reviews looking at how businesses may be allowed to reopen safely.

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