Skye tourism: Survey results show vast majority of businesses to reopen after lockdown

Visitors at Sligachan take in the scenery.

The vast majority of Skye’s tourism and hospitality businesses, including 100 per cent of hotels and 90 per cent of self-catering establishments are set to reopen this summer once lockdown is lifted.

That’s according to research conducted by the island’s destination management organisation, Skye Connect.

Skye Connect carried out eight surveys gauging the opinions of people across the tourism sector in hotels, B&B/guest-houses, self-catering, restaurants/cafes, visitor attractions, arts and crafts businesses, marine tour operators, and outdoor activity providers.

Overall 240 individual businesses completed the surveys. Of those responding, 100 per cent of hotels plan to reopen compared to 90 per cent of self-catering businesses and 78 per cent in the B&B sector.

Speaking last week in the Scottish Parliament, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “I can confirm that, on 3 July, it is our intention to lift the guidance advising people in Scotland to travel no more than five miles for leisure and recreation purposes.

“And although the tourism sector will not open fully until the 15 July, we intend that self-contained holiday accommodation – for example, holiday cottages and lodges, or caravans where there are no shared services – can open from 3 July.

“However, we would ask people to use good judgment, abide by the rules that apply at any time to households meeting up, and be sensitive to those living in our rural communities.

“And the advice remains to avoid crowded places.

“As we hopefully suppress the virus further, we will also continue to consider any measures that might be necessary to protect against the risk of imported cases of the virus…”

Neist Point on Skye is one of the island’s most popular spots.

All of the visitor attractions responding to the Skye Connect survey plan to reopen along with all the outdoor activity providers. Seventy-eight per cent of marine tour operators and 80 per cent of arts and crafts businesses also plan to reopen.

Across most sectors, two-thirds of businesses said they could be ready to open within two weeks.

However, the hotel and restaurant sectors need more time with 66 per cent of hotels and 45 per cent of restaurants reporting they could require four to six weeks to prepare for reopening.

The overwhelming majority of businesses in each sector report that social distancing will impact on capacity (hotels 94 per cent, restaurants/cafes 90 per cent, visitor attractions 75 per cent, outdoor activities 80 per cent, marine tours 65 per cent, B&B/Guesthouses 72 per cent.

The self-catering sector is largely unaffected by social distancing protocols and 80 per cent of businesses responding to the survey said they would not have to reduce capacity.

Work on a path renovation project restarted last week at the Old Man of Storr –
which is among the most visited destinations on Skye.

Among businesses claiming adverse impact from reduced capacity, there is uncertainty as to where this will leave the viability in the future. In most sectors, there are significant numbers of businesses that state reduced capacity will render the business unviable – marine tours – 35 per cent, arts and crafts – 25 per cent, hotels – 22 per cent, restaurants/cafes – 17 per cent.

The impact of lockdown since the 23rd of March has had a devastating impact on the annual turnover predictions for most hospitality and activity providers.

The marine tours sector has been particularly affected with four-fifths of businesses responding indicating they have lost between 80 per cent and 100 per cent of annual turnover.

The next highest impact has been felt by the B&B/Guesthouse sector where two-thirds of respondents say they have lost 80-100 per cent of anticipated annual turnover.

A similar level of financial loss has been felt by a third of self-catering businesses, 45 per cent of the outdoor activity providers, and almost half of the arts and crafts businesses, visitor attractions, and hotels.

On average businesses across the eight sectors anticipate being able to recover up to 30 per cent of anticipated turnover if they open by the beginning of August.

Looking ahead, half of the businesses surveyed across the sectors report being “cautiously optimistic” about the tourist season of 2021.

Businesses were also asked about the level of financial support they have received during the crisis either through Government grants, furlough scheme payments, or loans. In the B&B sector, 90 per cent of businesses responding to the survey have been able to access the support of between £1,000 and £15,000. 82 per cent of self-catering providers have accessed a similar level of support.

In the hotel sector, 58 per cent of businesses have received the support of between £,1000 and £15,000, with 30 per cent having received between £15,000-£30,000.

Alistair Danter

Alistair Danter, SkyeConnect’s project manager, says the data provides a worrying snapshot of industry concern, despite the prospect of individual businesses being able to open within the next couple of weeks.

He said: “It is particularly worrying that so many businesses that want to reopen are finding that current guidelines threaten business viability. The loss of anticipated turnover experienced within the sector would, in normal circumstances, force businesses to close.

“Fortunately, the government’s support packages are keeping many businesses afloat for the time being.

“However, many businesses are still falling through the cracks in terms of eligibility for support and then we have the uncertainty around what will happen when the furlough scheme closes at the end of October.

“It is clear that our industry needs to start trading again quickly, but it will also need ongoing government support to get through to the summer of 2021.”

In Monday’s (29th June) daily press briefing, First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon said there were no current plans to introduce quarantine for visitors coming to Scotland from England but said that “she wasn’t ruling anything out – if it was required from a public health perspective.”