Social distancing of two meters is simply not viable for Scotland’s tourist attractions
The pandemic has impacted Scottish tourism like a large magnitude earthquake. It shook the industry in its heart, causing seismic damage to every one of its cornerstones.
Without a doubt, our tourist attractions are among the most affected. The devastating effect Covid-19 continues to have on them cannot be overstated. It is no exaggeration to say that our once thriving industry has been brought to its knees and the challenges it faces are considerable.
Recent research by the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA) and the Moffat Center for Travel & Tourism has highlighted the vulnerable position in which our industry finds itself. The results give a grim reading, with very few attractions predicting any significant recovery.
Our research shows that while the majority of sites have now reopened, it is not viable for many to fully open. Two-thirds were forced to reduce opening hours or limit their facilities to cut costs.
The persistent two-meter physical distance restrictions and the fact that we are unlikely to see a substantial return of international visitors this year are the main obstacles preventing our industry from resuming operations to an economically viable level. 54% of attractions are either forced to stay closed due to capacity restrictions or lose money when they are open.
In addition, one in five sites expects their sales to decline by more than 50% due to the lack of high-spending international visitors. Overall, more than one in eight attractions don’t think they can reopen at all this year, unless we see further changes in restrictions.
The point is, the longer the restrictions continue, the harder it will be for our industry to recover. The fixed costs of attractions are very high, higher than most other tourism sectors. Our key window for making money – normally March through October – is also relatively small. If we endure another main season in which restrictions prevent us from operating sustainably, the consequences will be dire.
The number of visitors last year has dropped so much that it was difficult to understand them. Overall, they were almost 34 million less than in 2019, a drop of over 63%.
With much of the sector closed for most of the last 14 months, all cash reserves are completely depleted; There’s nothing left to take hundreds of our most beloved cultural venues through another difficult year. Additional financial support to the sector will therefore be vital, especially if we are still subject to prohibitive restrictions in the coming months. It is essential that the Scottish and UK governments do not now abandon their support for the sector.
Regarding the restrictions, I fully accept that we cannot just open our doors and have one franc for all. Constant attention and attention must be given to the safety of our visitors and staff. Indeed, ensuring their protection is something for which attractions have an exceptional reputation. Our rigorous security protocols have been recognized by the Scottish Government as exemplary, with a robust and responsible approach taken to ensuring on-site security, including a series of tightly controlled measures such as timed ticketing, one-way routes and improved cleaning procedures. .
However, we urgently need to see the restrictions changed to allow our industry to operate at a sustainable level. For example, ASVA is a strong advocate for reducing the physical distance to one meter at attractions, thereby aligning our industry with the hospitality industry. It is completely illogical that, under the current restrictions, visitors can sit in a museum cafe three feet apart without covering their faces, but then have to ensure that they maintain a distance of two meters when visiting the rest of the place while wearing masks.
On a more positive note, the attractions that have reopened are, of course, delighted to welcome visitors again, whom they report – very encouragingly – are overwhelmingly positive about their experiences there. Things got off to a slow start, however, with low visitor numbers across the board, especially indoor attractions.
While we expect UK and UK travel restrictions to continue to decrease, international tourism is unlikely to return until next year. This means that our internal market is now more crucial than ever.
It has never been more important to support our attractions – which are so essential and so important to our culture, our heritage and our communities. I urge everyone to play their part in supporting their survival and recovery.
There really has never been a better time for Scots to take advantage of our rich wealth of world class attractions. Without the usual hustle and bustle of crowds, you are sure to enjoy a unique and more personalized experience. And of course, the warmest and most secure welcome awaits you.
Gordon Morrison is the Managing Director of the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions.