Driving up quality standards will help the north’s tourism industry recover from the “catastrophic” £0.5billion hit it has suffered from the Covid crisis, the area’s development agency has said.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) believes there is now an opportunity to “reposition” the vital sector and make it more “resilient, responsible and sustainable.”
The quango said that, after initially concentrating on helping “as many businesses as possible” survive the pandemic, it was now focusing on assisting the industry to drive up quality to “meet changing markets and expectations.”
Minutes of a recently published April HIE board meeting described the impact of Covid on the region’s tourism sector as “catastrophic.”
Job losses and business closures
The report said the pandemic had caused a “dramatic decrease of over 60% in the sector’s GDP – equal to £0.5bn – and a substantial but as yet undetermined number of job losses and business closures.”
It added that the crisis had resulted in the need for tourism businesses to “adapt, evolve and respond” and that offered an “opportunity to reposition the sector.”
Anna Miller, head of tourism at HIE, said there had been a “huge impact” on the industry from the pandemic.
She continued: “It’s estimated to have caused a reduction in visitor spend of between £370million and £584m, with the loss of jobs and businesses.
Initially our focus was on resilience and helping as many businesses as possible to remain viable through the crisis. More recently we have been focusing on helping the sector to drive up quality and develop distinct experiences that meet changing markets and expectations.
“We are also working with strategic destination management organisations (DMOs), ensuring they are adequately resourced to support recovery in their areas.
“And we are working with individual tourism businesses, social enterprises and communities, to help them adapt, evolve and benefit from new opportunities.”
Ms Miller added: “Following a gradual reopening of the sector this year, things have been looking more positive, particularly for domestic tourism.
While the outlook is still very uncertain, these combined efforts have started to reposition the sector for recovery and to create a future for tourism in the region that is more resilient, responsible and sustainable.”
Publicly-funded HIE, which has a number of figures from the north’s tourism and hospitality sectors on its board, is involved in the development of the Scottish Government’s National Tourism Recovery Plan.
The agency has recently announced extra funds for the industry in areas including the Outer Hebrides, Cairngorm National Park and Argyll and the Islands.
Meanwhile, HIE has confirmed its deputy chief executive, Carroll Buxton, will step up on an interim basis when current chief executive, Charlotte Wright, leaves at the end of this month.
An HIE spokesman said recruitment for a permanent replacement would “get under way in the summer.”