First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced Scotland’s phased plan to ease the country out of lockdown and reintroduce the variable levels approach.
Sturgeon yesterday unveiled a ‘revised strategic framework’ which comprises four phases but fails to detail when hospitality venues will be able to reopen fully.
The tentative time scale will start from late April, with Scotland then moving back into a levels system from the last week of that month.
The news has been met with disappointment from Scotland’s hospitality leaders, with many calling for the plan to allow hotels, pubs and restaurant to fully reopen on May 17, in line with England’s proposed date.
The framework began on Monday with the reopening of some schools.
Phase 2, March 15, will see more schools permitted to open with non-contact outdoor group sports for teenagers allowed. Socialising rules will be eased to allow outdoor meetings of four people from two households.
Phase 3 on April 5 will see the stay at home order lifted, places of worship allowed to reopen and some retailers able to resume trading.
On April 26, Sturgeon will return the country to the variable levels approach, gradually opening up the rest of the economy after this date. The measures will be reviewed again in mid-May.
It means that hospitality businesses will be moved down a level to level three from this date.
While level three rules were set out in the previous tiered lockdown, Sturgeon confirmed the system will be introduced “possibly with some revisions to the content of the levels”.
Under previous level three restrictions, the sale of alcohol was not permitted in indoor or outdoor hospitality settings, and although food was allowed to be served, all venues were required to close at 6pm.
Takeaways were permitted for alcohol and food “as per existing arrangements”.
Frank Whitaker, chair of Aberdeen City and Shire Hotel’s Association says: “The implication that, when hotels, bars and restaurants are able to reopen again in the last week of April Scotland will be in level three, is a hammer blow to businesses which have in effect had very little revenue generating potential since March 2020. When hotels were able to open their revenue was severely restricted by the differing measures at any given time such as corporate travel restrictions, no alcohol or closing at 6pm.
“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. However, opening in level three would not be financially viable for many hotels as their revenue potential would be severely affected. Manning costs remain the same whether an establishment is serving a guest one cup of coffee or a more profitable bottle of wine or a bedroom. The previously implemented VAT reduction has been of little benefit to hospitality businesses which have been forced to halt trading. 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.”
Marc Crothall, Chief Executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance said: “The level system is a divergence from the route map set out by the Prime Minister yesterday and causes huge issues for businesses who we know are being contacted today with enquiries to book from those living south of the border. With no international tourism likely for some time, there is greater dependency on Scotland’s ability to attract tourism from within the UK and we need to provide a degree of reassurance that their bookings can be accommodated.
“Our tourism industry is not able to accept bookings with confidence; not all will wait for our sector to gradually re-open to book. We’ve seen the huge spike in bookings from England for foreign travel over the last 24 hours and there is a great fear that Scotland’s tourism industry will lose out in what could have been a buoyant summer season.
Given that Scotland will now be opening behind England, there is an even greater need for a marketing campaign to boost late summer and autumn bookings and ensure that Scotland’s tourism industry isn’t disadvantaged in the long term. We know that people are actively searching for holidays for later in the year; the window of opportunity is now.”