The way we were – Helensburgh in the 1950s when tourists and day visitors flocked in their thousands to the old town. Picture from Robert Ryan, Helensburgh Memories
By Democrat reporter
As the Bonnie Banks, Helensburgh and the other areas of the Lomond region in West Dunbartonshire gear up for an influx of holiday makers taking the staycation option, the news for the tourist industry is bad.
Investigative staff on The Sunday Post reported yesterday that Scotland is readying itself for a bumper season as international flights edge back to pre-pandemic levels, cruise ships are once again in demand and many people are looking to enjoy holidays cancelled during lockdown.
That’s the good news. The bad? The industry is about 45,000 workers short, meaning hotels, restaurants and attractions are struggling to cope and many are having to cut their services and hours to stay operational.
Visitors are urged to plan ahead and book because spare capacity for “drop-in” rooms and restaurant tables could be much more limited than before Covid and Brexit.
Chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance Marc Crothall, who sits on the Scottish Tourism Emergency Response Group (Sterg) tasked with steering the industry out of the pandemic, said: “We are now faced with a dilemma. Where we have opened the doors again, we have reasonable demand and obligation to bookings that were made before the pandemic.
“The cruise sector is 85% back in demand. The signs are of a buoyant recovery in the American market and the air routes are returning as well but, unfortunately, we have a 45,000-people hole in the workforce because of the combination of Covid and Brexit.”
Asked if Scotland’s tourism businesses will survive, he said: “Some won’t, that’s the brutal fact.”
Before the pandemic, in 2019, there were 220,000 people working in the Scottish tourism industry, according to Skills Development Scotland data. European workers, who were the backbone of Scotland’s hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions, left for home during lockdowns furlough schemes and did not or could not return.
Luss Highland Games in July is one of the favourite summer events for visitors to Loch Lomond.
Classed as unskilled labour, they are required to go through a lengthy and costly visa process to work in the UK. Many don’t bother and opt for the ease of accessing work elsewhere in Europe. Others, according to tourism chiefs, no longer feel welcome in the UK.
Migration and visa bureaucracy is dissuading European staff from applying to work in the UK. Leon Thompson, executive director of UKHospitality Scotland whose members run more than 7,000 venues across the country from large hotels and restaurant chains to pub groups, said businesses would be forced to reduce their service as a result of staff shortages.
He said: “A lot of EU nationals applied for UK settled status but the pandemic disrupted that. They headed back to their own countries and haven’t returned to Scotland because there is work available in the EU, which is perceived as being more welcoming of migrant labour. But in Scotland we have businesses desperate for EU nationals to work here, particularly in rural areas.
“Without a workforce, businesses are having to restrict the number of hours they are open. Some hotels are not offering 100% occupancy, while some restaurants are keeping the number of covers lower.
“The frustrating thing is businesses coming out of the pandemic need to trade at optimum level to make money because they accumulated a lot of unprecedented debt over the pandemic. Some are looking at a 200% rise in the costs and there is a limit to what you can pass on to a customer before they no longer see value for money in their purchases
“But the staffing issue is a fundamental challenge because if you don’t have the workers you can’t deliver the service and make the money needed in order to keep going.”
Pokey hats and fish suppers – a summertime treat for visitors to Oban and Argyll.