You don’t need to be an expert to appreciate the hugely challenging times the Scottish hotels and hospitality sector is currently facing.

The latest closure of pubs and restaurants across Scotland’s central belt, which is due to be in effect until 25 October, makes that challenge even greater.


The new rules allow pubs and restaurants outside the central belt, and cafes across Scotland, to operate from 6am to 6pm but restrict any from serving alcohol indoors. Licensed premises outside the central belt can continue to serve alcohol until 10pm but only outdoors, while hotels throughout Scotland can serve evening meals to residents but without alcohol.


There is understanding from across the hospitality sector of the Scottish Government’s aim to safeguard public health, but there is also real concern about how these new rules have been implemented.


While the current restrictions are preferable to another full shutdown – especially with the current furlough scheme ending later this month – many of the hospitality business owners and operators that we speak to believe they will be catastrophic for their industry. After the initial lockdown, some hotels and hospitality businesses – particularly in coastal and rural areas – reported that they experienced a brief summer respite with a welcome increase in UK domestic holidays.


However, the latest restrictions, along with the prospect of a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown and other potential regional shutdowns, could further damage consumer confidence. The current limitations imposed on hospitality, for example, are likely to deter many people from booking city breaks in places like Edinburgh or Glasgow.


This lack of consumer confidence is the key issue: if people are wary of travelling within the UK amid constantly changing government policies, then what does that mean for the future of the hotels and hospitality sector?


The Scottish tourism sector supports over 200,000 jobs and, before the pandemic, was worth over £4 billion to our annual economy – and it needs to be safeguarded. Hospitality businesses feel that they must be given greater consideration when decisions are being made that directly impact upon their viability.


While the support of the furlough scheme and over government initiatives has been a lifeline for many businesses, this is not simply about receiving more public money. What the hotels and hospitality sector also wants is more thought about how and when public health restrictions are applied, beginning with greater and longer-term clarity on government plans. This includes a clear framework for the imposition, and relaxation, of restrictions over the coming months that will be consistently applied. The sector will also want to see clear guidelines on what each tier of this system will entail and a detailed road map outlining the measures businesses can take to enable them to continue trading if further restrictions must be introduced.


There is also widespread concern across the sector that an undercurrent of general, but unspecific, warnings of potential new restrictions, plus time lags between announcement and imposition of restrictions, are heightening consumer uncertainty.  Announcing and introducing any necessary measures more speedily would not only benefit public health but also prevent unnecessary damage to public confidence in booking travel and accommodation.


We also hear repeated calls for greater levels of consultation between government and the hospitality sector to discuss the profound effect of current and planned restrictions closures on employment as well as health & safety issues and financial viability. There are also concerns that truncated consultation by government on allocation of financial support measures – such as the “day or two” that the Scottish Government planned to take to consult on how its recently announced £40m package should be distributed to the hospitality industry – can lead to poorly targeted distribution.


These issues will be further explored at our Rebound and Remodel event on 27 October, which is open to business owners and senior managers within Scotland’s hotels and hospitality sector. We’ll be joined by leading figures from within the Scottish tourism sector who will focus on how it can bounce back from the impact of the global pandemic.


Sharing these insights is an important means of helping businesses recover but it will also require further collaboration from government and the direct involvement of the hotels and hospitality sector in the planning and imposition of additional restrictions. Given the devastating impact these are having on the sector and the wider economic implications this brings, it’s important we get this approach right as we continue the battle against Covid-19.


Opinion piece by Roland Smyth, Head of the Scottish Hotels & Leisure Group at CMS

Further details and registration for the free to attend CMS Rebound and Remodel event is available here


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