Covid Scotland: No staycation boom for visitor attractions as venues in 'survival mode', survey says

Visitor attractions did not experience a staycation boom amid the pandemic, with the majority in “survival mode”, according to a new survey.

Friday, 1st October 2021, 12:11 pm

The poll of visitor attractions in Scotland found under half of the sector (48 per cent) is fully open and more than one in ten attractions (11 per cent) remain closed.

A further 41 per cent are operating with reduced hours or limited facilities due to the impacts of both the pandemic and Brexit, a report on the research said.

The survey was conducted on behalf of the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA) by Glasgow Caledonian University’s Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism Development, and received responses from 181 organisations, representing 353 individual attractions.

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The V&A Dundee took part in the survey

The survey found more than one third (34 per cent) of attractions are not operating at an economically sustainable level and more than one in five (21.5 per cent) are holding fewer than three months of financial reserves.

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ASVA chief executive Gordon Morrison said: “The pandemic has had a truly devastating impact on Scotland’s visitor attractions and these latest results provide further evidence that this impact is still very much being felt.

“I cannot emphasise strongly enough that, despite a number of media reports to the contrary, there’s been no ‘staycation boom’ or widespread economic recovery for our sector this year, and we face a very challenging winter period ahead.

“With very few international visitors and restrictive regulations that severely limited viable trading throughout the spring and summer, the window of opportunity to trade successfully has been extremely limited and, as a result we’re still concerned about the survival, not the recovery, of much of our sector as we move into the off-season.”

Mr Morrison said the tourism sector desperately needed continued support from both the government and the public to survive and make it through what will be a “very challenging” winter period.

Attractions that took part in the survey included V&A Dundee, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park, Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh and the Scottish Seabird Centre.

The survey found that turnover is down by over 50 per cent at more than a third of attractions (34 per cent) this year when compared to the same period in 2019, with only one in 20 (5.5 per cent) operating with a turnover at or above 2019 levels.

Looking to the future, more than 43 per cent of attractions anticipate their turnover for the 21/22 financial year will be “significantly less” when compared to the 2019/20 financial year while only 5 per cent anticipate that it will be “significantly more”.

Just under half of attractions (49 per cent) said they are facing challenges recruiting staff, with front of house roles proving to be the hardest to fill.

The report stated that contrary to media reports about increased domestic tourism leading to a staycation boom, there is “no evidence of an actual recovery and, in reality, the majority of attractions remain in survival mode”.

The poll, carried out in the first two weeks of September, found the top three obstacles inhibiting short-term recovery were a lack of international visitors, ongoing restrictions and regulations and lack of domestic visitors.

Professor John Lennon, director of the Moffat Centre at GCU, said: “Tourism, like many other industries in Scotland, has been hugely impacted by the loss of EU workers as a direct consequence of Brexit.

“The ability to adequately and safely staff operations has become the next insurmountable challenge.”

The survey found that more than nine in 10 attractions (92.8%) continue to operate with additional Covid-19 mitigating measures.

A UK Government spokeswoman said: “We are closely monitoring labour supply and working with sector leaders to understand how we can best ease particular pinch points. Similar challenges are being faced by other countries around the world.

“We want to see employers make long-term investments in the UK domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad.

“Our Plan for Jobs is helping people across the country retrain, build new skills and get back into work.”