Knockderry Country House Hotel on Loch Longside.
By Democrat reporter
Jackie Baillie, MSP for Dumbarton, Vale of Leven, Helensburgh and the Rosneath Peninsula, had a conference call with the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Tourism, Fergus Ewing, to discuss how the Scottish Government can better support tourism industry businesses both in her constituency and across Scotland during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ms Baillie, left, was joined on the call by James Fraser, Chair of the Friends of Loch Lomond, Neil Wells of Lochs and Glens, Sandy Fraser of the Oak Tree Inn at Balmaha and Beth and Murdo McLeod, owners of the Knockderry Country House Hotel. These tourism related businesses were able to offer an on the ground, industry perspective as to exactly how the current crisis was negatively impacting on businesses such as theirs.
The conference call allowed her, and the local industry reps, to raise a number of important issues with the Cabinet Secretary. This included discussing how to support these businesses beyond the current crisis. The majority of tourism industry businesses in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs area create their revenue from overseas visitors. Many foreign tourists will be cautious about overseas travel far beyond the official end of the current crisis, which would see many of these businesses suffer long term.
Mr Ewing expressed his desire for a resolution to be found swiftly for a number of issues within the current support offered to businesses which have created barriers for those within the tourism industry. These issues include problems surrounding rate revaluation which left many ineligible for financial support.
He also suggested that the Government was currently seeking flexibility to ensure that seasonal staff recruited by these businesses after the 28th February current cut-off date would be supported financially through the job retention scheme by any loss of work caused by the pandemic.
Jackie Baillie said: “I had a very productive meeting with the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Tourism and welcome the Scottish Government’s willingness to understand that businesses in the tourism industry need robust support long after this crisis is over. Tourists from both within the UK and from overseas will be nervous about extensive travel for the foreseeable future and tourism businesses will really suffer as a result.
“I think the Cabinet Secretary appreciated that the support and protection needed for businesses within the tourism industry must continue for the rest of the season and I am sure that he will work to ensure that the policies and measures introduced are able to fully support and combat the difficulties facing these businesses. I am more than willing to continue to work alongside the Scottish Government in order to achieve this.”
Rosneath Peninsula pictured from Helensburgh. Picture by Bill Heaney
James Fraser, Chair of the Friends of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and a Destination National Park Group member, said: “It was very helpful having the opportunity to brief the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Tourism on the gravity of the meltdown situation and the many challenges facing tourism businesses in and around the National Park.
“I am very grateful to Jackie Baillie for facilitating what was a very useful session with the Mr Ewing. We covered a number of issues surrounding practical support measures to help tourism businesses survive during this unprecedented lockdown period with no income streams and mounting overheads.”
Beth and Murdo McLeod, owners of the Knockderry Country House Hotel, said:“We welcomed the opportunity to meet with Fergus Ewing and voice our concerns about our current situation. The industry has never been in more desperate need of Government support and we were pleased that the Cabinet Secretary was eager to engage with us.
“However, we believe that actions speak louder than words and we look forward to seeing how the support discussed materialises in the coming weeks and months. We and our staff, like so many others, will suffer from this crisis for a long time to come. Our small, family business will hopefully be able to make good use of the help that is already available in order to prevent the immediate loss of 20 jobs.
“If businesses like ours are to survive as we head from a disastrous spring towards the bleak seasons which follow, a coherent national strategy must be provided by the Government sooner rather than later.”