No opening date for Scotland’s islands?

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Rob McKinnon, CEO Outer Hebrides Tourism has called out the Scottish Government on its failure to give the islands an indicative opening date.

A statement from the tourism organisation says, “Tourism businesses have excluded from Government plans for easing lockdown at the end of April.  Across the islands, where tourism is the main industry, up to a third of businesses say they are unlikely to survive an extension to the ban on visitors.

“Two weeks ago the First Minister announced a timetable for mainland travel to resume on 26th April, and confirmed yesterday that this remained the Government’s aspiration. Neither statement referenced an opening date for the islands, triggering a wave of cancellations from visitors seeking certainty who have reluctantly opted for alternative holidays on the Scottish mainland. With a little over three weeks to go, Government emails today confirmed there is “No definitive timescale or specific dates” for the islands.  The islands do not know how they will be treated, with only a vague commitment to respond in a “couple of weeks”.

“The Government has commenced a consultation to gather opinions on alternative proposals that would allow islanders have more freedom internally, but critically would ban non-essential travel between the mainland and the islands.  As well as tourism, this has been met with dismay by many islanders who are desperate to be reunited with relatives on the mainland, by our young folk who are just as keen as their mainland peers to spread their wings after an extended lockdown, and by our local authorities who can see the damage that is being done by this two-tier approach. It is particularly surprising from a Government that has extolled its legislation promising equal and fair treatment of the islands in everything it does.

“Tourism businesses from across the island groups met today to demand a level playing field from the Scottish Government on arrangements to end Scotland’s lockdown. The approach taken has already caused unnecessary confusion and millions of pounds of damage.  By acting quickly the Government can stop the situation becoming even worse.  However, we are worried, that with an election in progress, this is dominating minds in Holyrood.  A failure to provide any robust reasons why the islands have been selected for special treatment, against a background of falling case numbers, major progress with vaccinations is adding to frustrations. We are told that arrangements in place for the mainland are not safe for the islands, despite operating successfully on the islands last summer without widespread transmission between the local and visitor populations.

“We are calling for the Government to end its discrimination against our islands and urgently clarify arrangements for opening of the Scottish Islands.

Marc Crothall, Chief Executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance  explained, “Tourism is critical to our island economies; the impact of current restrictions has been severe across our island communities.  Many hundreds of island businesses are members of the STA either directly or through membership of their sectoral or destination organisations

“All have told us directly that they would not wish to remain out of kilter with the mainland lockstep approach, in fact quite the opposite.  This potentially would mean that they cannot receive guests and be open for business from the earliest indicative date for reopening of 26thApril.  The seasonality of tourism in Scotland means that it is absolutely vital that our island communities are able to receive the same economic stimulus as the rest of the country, and that the businesses that have been closed and unable to trade for so many months can be revived in line with the rest of the tourism economy.

“If businesses in our islands can’t follow the same approach as the mainland, the impact will be more severe than may be understood currently.  Businesses will lose trade to mainland businesses, people will choose to visit other destinations leading quickly to business failure, significant unemployment and an economic and social crisis within our island communities.”

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