The Scottish Government’s roadmap out of lockdown was criticised last night for failing to address the need for travel – both at home and abroad.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday announced plans for all of mainland Scotland to revert to Level 3 restrictions at the end of April – which would maintain the ban on people leaving their council area.
And retail, tourism and aviation chiefs were quick to hit out at the continued cloud hanging over them, as hopes of Easter trade were dashed.
Derek Provan, chief executive of AGS Airports which owns Aberdeen International, said: “We received no plan or framework against which we can start plotting any form of recovery.
“This sends a very worrying signal to our airports, our airlines and the thousands of staff our sector supports.
“We find ourselves in a position where airports and airlines in England can start planning to safely reopen in time for the summer, yet in Scotland we are left with more questions than answers.
“It is now two weeks since the Scottish Government committed to setting up an aviation working group and it has still to meet.
“This lack of meaningful engagement cannot continue.”
The cause for concern
On Monday night, Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined a restart date of May 17, at earliest, for international flights.
In England, travel outside of the local area will be permitted on March 29 with domestic stays expected to be allowed again two weeks later.
By comparison, Ms Sturgeon yesterday revealed stay at home requirements would remain in place until the beginning of April, and it will not be until the end of that month that mainland Scotland drops down to Level 3.
Maintaining the travel ban between the likes of Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire or Moray and the Highlands left the tourism industry calling for a level playing field with their English counterparts – for fear of losing out on a booming staycation trade this year.
Visit Aberdeenshire chief executive, Chris Foy, said: “The surge in holiday bookings in England last night illustrates the scale of pent up demand to enjoy a great escape.
“It is important that there is as much parity as possible between UK nations as spring progresses, otherwise business will be lost to other rural and less crowded destinations south of the border.”
Level 3 reopening a ‘hammer blow’ to hospitality trade
Frank Whitaker, chairman of Aberdeen City and Shire Hotels Association warned that level 3 restrictions at the end of April were a “hammer blow to businesses which have in effect had very little revenue generating potential since March 2020”.
“Hotels which have been forced to close still carry significant cost liabilities which they are contractually bound to, and in many cases are losing tens of thousands of pounds per month,” he added.
“However, opening in level three would not be financially viable for many hotels as their revenue potential would be severely affected.
“Realistically, and reading between the woolly lines of today’s statement, revenue recovery for hotels cannot be expected until late June 2021 at the very earliest.”
“The booking window lag for hotels has also to be taken into account. Hotels are not like shops; we will receive bookings from the moment we are able to open our doors, however, unlike shops, our revenue won’t be immediate.
“Hoteliers who, in 2020 erected outdoor marquee structures, are also nervous about whether they may now have to seek building warrants or further planning permission for these structures – which will, again, incur further expense.
“We’re calling for the Scottish and UK Governments to give us clarity today about the way forward instead of offering a three week lapse before the next update.”
He called for hospitality-specific measures to help businesses stay afloat, including another 12-month VAT reduction, furlough until the end of 2021 and for physical distancing Spaces For People measure to be extended until December too.
Claims travel outside council area would be a first step to Scotland’s economic recovery
Chairman of the Institute of Directors Scotland, Aidan O’Carroll, said the announcement was “all the more disappointing” as Easter trading would be missed.
He added: “It is vital that we find a way of easing travel restrictions between local authority areas, as only by allowing more travel within Scotland will we start to see the green shoots of recovery with a partial reopening of the economy.
“Of course, there is still so much more that needs to happen so that we can welcome international guests back to Scotland, but at the very least, internal travel must be addressed to help businesses.”
Pubs, restaurants, and gyms and leisure facilities are hoped to all open on April 26, in line with the move to the third tier of restrictions.
Business needed ‘a bit of positivity’
Helen Crawford, who owns the Old School shop in Beauly with husband William, revealed surprised at the decision to also open non-essential retail on that date, later than in England.
“We could potentially be opening two weeks after the rest of the UK in terms of retail. I’m not sure why, I didn’t see what the thinking was behind that and don’t think she explained that,” she said.
“I would like to know what happens beyond April 26 and to have seen a bigger picture with an end point we can aim for.
“It would have been good for the economy, good for mental health and good for everybody to hear that, with a bit of positivity.”
Derek Ritchie, manager of the We Are Inverurie business improvement district, said the uncertainty was “absolutely disastrous”.
“We watched the UK plans yesterday and now it’s totally up in the air again after the Scottish plans – it’s a lot less clear.”
But for others due to open at the end of April, the detail outlined was enough cause for comfort.
Light at the end of the tunnel for leisure facilities and beauty trade
Sport Aberdeen managing director Alistair Robertson has been campaigning ardently for physical activity facilities to be at the front of the queue to reopen – having been left shut long after pubs were allowed to pick up trade last summer.
He told The P&J: “Whilst we welcome the news that community physical activity facilities, gyms and studios are included in the plan to reopen the economy from late April, we await further detail and dates from the Scottish Government.
“It is important that the government recognises the essential role of these vital facilities in the health, wellbeing and recovery of our country, prioritising their reopening at the earliest possible date from April 26.”
The relief was shared by Kintore businesswoman Rebecca Carr, whose hair salon can reopen at the end of April too.
She said: “At least we have a been given a date. At least we know where we’re going, which is a big help.
“The unknown was the worst part, the waiting game.
“There’s more reason to be optimistic now – I am just ready to get back to it now.”