As we endure what we hope will be the worst of this pandemic, it’s important to remember that Scotland’s hospitality sector has lived through previous global crises.

Prior to this current public health crisis, Scotland’s tourism sector was thriving with one of its key challenges focused on managing visitor over-capacity in many parts of the country. There’s little doubt that, in time, both the hotel sector and the wider hospitality industry will recover, although this will not be painless.


The international hotel sector was one of the first to be directly affected by COVID-19. Scottish hoteliers have certainly felt its impact: the iconic Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh now finds itself temporarily boarded up, while across the town the Waldorf Astoria, still referred to as ‘The Caledonian’ by many of the city’s locals, has closed its doors for the first time ever since opening in 1903. It’s a similar picture across Scotland as most hotels, from budget accommodation providers to five star establishments, have been forced to shut their doors as the UK lock down continues.


Data from Savills shows that, although the 9/11 attacks impacted heavily on international travel, the full recovery window for international visitors to the UK was 16 months. It took significantly longer, 69 months, to recover from the 2008 global financial crisis triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers. While it’s difficult to predict the exact timeframe that COVID-19 will present for the sector, this provides some context of the challenges that lie ahead. 


As part of the sector’s recovery, it will be important for hotels and other hospitality sector companies in Scotland to increase business in what have traditionally been quieter months. In the capital, one of key challenges will be to fill the city’s events calendar after public health restrictions are lifted. Along with reinstating popular events such as the Edinburgh Fringe and Hogmanay, the city’s authorities will also need to consider new events to help spread visitors across the year and mitigate the traditional summer and Festive Season peaks.


When social distancing measures finally come to an end, staycations could give a boost to the Scottish hotels sector as many Brits are likely to be reluctant to travel abroad in the immediate aftermath of a global pandemic. Scotland is extremely well-placed to benefit from a trend towards domestic tourism: Edinburgh, Glasgow and now Dundee all have established and credible portfolios of visitor attractions, while those seeking time in the countryside are spoilt with choice.


Meanwhile VisitScotland stands ready to promote more than 15 Scottish road trips when the time is right again, including the iconic North Coast 500 as well as lesser-well known gems such as the South West Coast 300 and the North East 250.


The Scottish hotel sector is facing one of its biggest ever challenges. We must, however, reassure ourselves that we started this crisis in a strong position which will help ensure the sector can and will recover over time.


Opinion piece by Roland Smyth, Head of Scottish Hotels & Leisure group at law firm CMS


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