If small businesses are the beating hearts of their communities, tourism is the lifeblood of the Highlands & Islands, which for this purpose covers Shetland, Orkney, the Western Isles, Highlands, Moray and Argyll – exactly 50% of Scotland.
Directly or indirectly, tourism touches more businesses in this region than any other industry, and without it many cornerstone businesses and services would close and young people and families have to leave the area. The very fabric of our communities would be ripped asunder.
Fortunately, tourism has remained strong in recent decades and growth has been encouraging lately, but then along came the coronavirus. Our reliance on our visitor economy, and a highly seasonal visitor economy at that, has left us extremely vulnerable to the economic depredations of this virus, for as we all know, more tourism and hospitality businesses have been forced to close or reduce their operations than perhaps in any other industry.
Since reopening in July, Highlands & Islands businesses have had mixed fortunes. Some haven’t reopened at all, including coach and minibus tours and some hotels and B&Bs. Of the rest, many have had to discount, and they’ve watched their incomes reduce and costs, particularly cleaning costs, increase. Margins are thin and cash reserves depleted. Despite this, businesses were still looking forward to an extended season that would hopefully enable them to recoup some of the income lost during Lockdown. And things were indeed looking good, until key markets, the Scottish Central Belt and England, were closed as the former was placed in Level 3 and the latter in a second lockdown. The hope now is for a quick reopening, a strong ski season, and lots of people coming north for short winter-breaks.
Whatever the case, the Highlands & Islands cannot afford to see its tourism and hospitality industry struggle; it’s simply too important. So, in the knowledge that Scotland’s national tourism organisation, VisitScotland, had put a lot of work into predicting the shape of tourism post-Covid, we invited the organisation’s senior insights manager and Highlands & Outer Hebrides regional leadership director to address an FSB Highlands & Islands Webinar.
Hosted by Tanja Lister, co-director of the North West Highlands’ Kylesku Hotel and FSB Highlands & Islands Area Leader, the webinar took place on Wednesday the 4th of November 2020.
As we recover from the pandemic we explore how consumer demand will change, what businesses can do to seize any opportunities and overcome threats.
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