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Staycation boom fails to materialise as Aberdeen hotels struggle to recover from impact of Covid-19

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Hotels in Aberdeen are struggling to recover from the impact of Covid-19, with several still unable to justify reopening.

The industry has been reeling since the onset of the pandemic in March, as businesses were forced to close with immediate effect.

Four months on, leading industry figures in the city have called the situation “grim”, and said an anticipated staycation boom had failed to materialise.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly urged Scots to consider holidaying in their home country, while campaigns have highlighted what is to offer locally.

But despite initial hopes of a busy autumn and extended season – and strong initial bookings at many holiday lets and caravan parks – many businesses have had no respite from the pain.

We’re still in the early stages of opening up, and we don’t yet have the full picture, but right now things are grim.”

Andrew Martin

Director of the Scottish Centre of Tourism at Robert Gordon University, Andrew Martin, was until recently vice-chairman of the Aberdeen City and Shire Hotels Association.

Andrew Martin, director of the Scottish Centre of Tourism at Robert Gordon University,

He said: “I have spoken to a number of hotel owners and managers in the city who are really struggling.

“The situation in Aberdeen right now is really not good. Occupancy is extremely low.

“People still have a fear of Covid and that together with a lack of business tourism – as so many are working from home – and the fact airlines are still not operating properly, means the current landscape is dire.

“I am still hopeful people will start travelling to the city from our traditional markets, that is England and Scotland itself, but it’s hard to say when things will pick up again.

“So much depends on confidence and there is fear right now of a second spike.

“We’re still in the early stages of opening up, and we don’t yet have the full picture, but right now things are grim.”

The Siberia Bar and Hotel on Belmont Street was due to reopen its 16 rooms to guests this Thursday.

The bar itself has proved popular since lockdown restrictions were lifted, going from “strength -to-strength”, but bosses have decided reopening the hotel side of the business would not be financially viable at this time.

Director Stuart McPhee said: “This really was not an easy decision to come to, but the numbers just don’t stack up,” he said.

“The myth of a staycation boom has just not materialised.

“During lockdown we had pinned our hopes on the prospect of all those who had not gotten out for so long heading out in every which direction and staying wherever they could.

Siberia, Belmont Street, Aberdeen

“This has proven to not be the case and it is our belief that albeit the appetite may be strong for trips for people heading from urban areas to rural settings, or indeed even rural to rural, our hotel environment is not going to benefit from this.”

Mr McPhee said that was compounded by international travel restrictions, overall Covid-19 concerns and “a changing local marketplace in Aberdeen with specific impacts on the oil and gas sector, no events, concerts and even limited demand in occasion visits such as hen or stag dos”.

He added: “This really was not an easy decision to come to, we even considered a limited operating model of reducing to a weekend service.

“But the numbers just don’t stack up.

“Our hotel is a huge asset and as a business we have recently invested heavily in a refurbishment of our room stock.

“This all must now sit dormant until such time as we have the business confidence to bring it back online.

“We have committed to our hotel staff that they will be looked after in the meantime and we will continue to engage with the furlough scheme for them or move them to help in other departments for the time being.”

If you are desperate to book a summer holiday – and if you are that would be entirely understandable – why not think about booking it in Scotland this year and giving some support to our own tourism sector at a time when they have probably never needed that support more.”

Nicola Sturgeon

Accommodation providers and tourism businesses across Scotland have been pinning their hopes on the hopes of the national staycation message since lockdown began to ease.

At her then daily briefing earlier this month, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urged Scots to support local businesses in their hour of need.

“If you are desperate to book a summer holiday – and if you are that would be entirely understandable – why not think about booking it in Scotland this year and giving some support to our own tourism sector at a time when they have probably never needed that support more,” she said.

She backed that up in subsequent days by telling husband of 10 years – and SNP chief executive – Peter Murrell to arrange a staycation.

Across the north and north-east, initial signs were positive, with restaurants reporting strong bookings, and some caravan parks logging calls from hundreds of interested visitors in a matter of days – many of them local.

The north has experienced particularly robust trade in some areas, leading some to protect a strong finish to the summer and an autumn boom that would provide some solace.

But elsewhere, there are signs it may be a very long road to recovery, with Siberia far from the only business in Aberdeen to question what the future looks like.

The Atholl Hotel on Aberdeen’s King’s Gate reopened on Friday, to a much changed market.

Owner Gordon Sinclair believes the city’s main industries, currently in flux, must recover before the hospitality industry can do so.

He said: “It was a very close call as to whether reopening would be financially viable or not.

“We’re operating at a lesser capacity, and we’re not even filling that. We’re not even half full.

“We’re doing our best, but at the end of the day, the economy has to get going again for the hotel industry to recover.

“It’s early days, and I think we’ve a long way to go yet.

“It is hard, but it is what it is, and we’re doing all in our power to get by.”

Marc Crothall

CEO of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, Marc Crothall, said the “hotel sector is one that is really concerning”, with some larger city centre hotels, including in Aberdeen, operating at just 8-9% capacity.

The Hilton DoubleTree Hotel on Beach Boulevard shut its doors in May, stating it was “no longer viable” to continue trading.

It had been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic and Operator Ability Hotels then entered liquidation, with all employees told they were being made redundant.

The Highlands and islands were last year identified as the joint top staycation hotspot in the country.

National figures revealed there were 5.5 million overnight trips across Scotland from British visitors – including Scots – between January and August 2019, with the domestic stays estimated to have delivered a £1.5 million boost to the Scottish economy.

The Highlands and Islands proved a firm favourite with visitors, with 2.1 million trips taken to the region during the first eight months of the year, tied only with Edinburgh and the Lothians as the most popular destination.

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