Shetland politicians and business leaders are ramping up pressure on governments to provide better support for the struggling tourism industry during the Covid-19 crisis – and beyond.
MSP Beatrice Wishart has added her voice to the growing chorus of calls pushing for the UK and Scottish governments to help the hospitality businesses survive.
Ms Wishart’s calls for a 12-month support plan for the industry follow comments made by isles MP Alistair Carmichael in Westminster earlier this week.
At a meeting in Holyrood, Ms Wishart said tourism businesses might survive just three months without support.
She asked tourism secretary Fergus Ewing about working with the UK government to consider a 12-month support package to tide the tourism and hospitality sector over into next season.
Ms Wishart was told the problems had been recognised problems but a 12-month fund had not yet been considered.
After the meeting she said: “In Shetland the tourism season is shorter compared to other areas of the UK. It looks increasingly likely that any exit from lockdown and safe re-opening of tourism and hospitality businesses could be during the low season.
“Without financial support to tide them over, that could be the nail in the coffin for many businesses.
“In Shetland, like elsewhere in Scotland, earnings from tourism during the spring and summer months sustains people through the winter and it is a real worry that coronavirus hit just when the visitor season was starting.
“It is clear that a 12-month plan, at least, is needed to ensure that viable businesses can survive to provide a living for their owners and be ready to safely welcome visitors again when the time is right.”
Liberal Democrats at Westminster have tabled a motion demanding a 12-month financial support package for the tourism and hospitality industry.
Speaking via video link earlier this week, Mr Carmichael welcomed the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s announced extension to the furlough scheme to protect jobs – but added more was needed to help tourism.
“Here in the Northern Isles we particularly see that in the visitor economy, which is crucial to us,” he added.
“The assistance for bed and breakfast operators, or operators of self-catering accommodation, leaves too many people without the assistance they need.
“A support scheme that finishes at the end of August, or September or whenever it will be, simply will not be adequate in parts of the country such as ours.
“Those parts of the country that have seasonal tourism require a 12-month programme, or else the tourism industry that will be left to be resurrected at the end of this process will be that much weaker, and the rebuilding and recovery that much more difficult.”
The Northern Isles edition of Debate Night on Wednesday also heard from struggling tourism businesses.
One B&B owner said she had been unable to apply for support funds as they required applicants to have paid businesses rates, whereas she paid domestic council tax.
Living Lerwick has also raised the plight of small tourism operators.
Project manager Emma Miller said that as some did not have a business banking account they had been unable to apply for the Creative or Tourism and Hospitality Enterprises Fund, which opened in Scotland to support the industry.