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Tourism businesses ‘struggling to survive’ in the wake of coronavirus pandemic according to survey by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) which focused on tourist and hospitality businesses within the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) area which included the Inverness, Moray, Badenoch and Strathspey areas and the results revealed that the west was performing better than the east, the weakest performer was Shetland, and the best performer of all was the northern Highlands – the area covered by the North Coast 500 (NC500)


By Gregor White

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The North Coast 500 is helping tourist firms in the north Highlands, but others are struggling in the wake of lockdown and continuing restrictions.
The North Coast 500 is helping tourist firms in the north Highlands, but others are struggling in the wake of lockdown and continuing restrictions.

Four in 10 Highland tourism businesses are struggling to generate sales and profits in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic according to a new survey.

The study by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) also finds that half are understaffed while a quarter are worried about their ability to survive, with one in 10 saying they are barely managing to stay afloat.

An eagerly-anticipated staycation boom did not take place as soon as travel restrictions were lifted according to most respondents.

The survey, conducted between May 25 and June 4, focused on tourism and hospitality businesses within the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) area and produced 290 responses.

FSB Highlands and Islands development manager David Richardson said it painted a worrying picture.

“While the ambition has always been for the Highlands and Islands to have a truly mixed economy, the fact is that most of this vast region is dependent, directly and indirectly, on tourism,” he said.

“It sustains jobs and communities, and without its rich array of businesses and services the quality of life that we all enjoy would be vastly diminished. Tourism is everyone’s business, and it is in all our interests that it succeeds.

“The fact that so many businesses in the Inverness, Moray, Badenoch and Strathspey area described themselves as struggling is a matter of grave concern, and it’s no wonder that a quarter fear that they might not survive until 2022.

“This is the time of year when these lynchpin businesses must build up the cash reserves needed to carry them through the long winter, undertake essential repairs and refurbishment, and start paying off any debts resulting from Covid loans.

“They simply cannot afford to be operating on ‘slow’.

“The lack of customers, especially overseas visitors, is a real worry and the sooner travel restrictions are lifted the better.”

A breakdown of the results within the HIE area reveals that the west was generally performing better than the east, the weakest performer was Shetland, and the best performer of all was the northern Highlands – the area covered by the North Coast 500.

The FSB report calls on the Scottish Government to commit to a range of actions, including withdrawing the need for physical distancing and self-isolation once most of the adult population is fully vaccinated.

It also calls on the UK government to pilot a remote visa for employers in the Highlands and Islands with Mr Richardson saying that, of all the problems businesses currently face, staffing is the most prominent.


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