In a heavily critical letter sent to Nicola Sturgeon and other Scottish Government ministers, the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) warned Scotland’s 2022 tourism season was at “serious risk” due to the planned restrictions around international travel.
The Scottish Government plans to diverge from the rest of the UK on the requirement for fully vaccinated travellers into the country to pay for a day two Covid-19 test from the start of October alongside other changes to the ‘traffic light’ system for international travel.
This testing requirement, however, is being ditched by the UK Government.
Last week Scottish transport secretary Michael Matheson said doing the same would “weaken our ability to protect the public health of Scotland’s communities”.
Edinburgh Airport, Scotland’s busiest airport, criticised the move as curtailing the aviation and travel sector’s recovery.
This criticism has now been echoed by Scotland’s main tourism sector representative group, the Scottish Tourism Alliance, which attacked the policy as “high risk self-harm”.
In a letter sent to Ms Sturgeon, finance secretary Kate Forbes, Mr Matheson and minister for business Ivan McKee, the group warns of a “significant” impact to the industry should the planned divergence in policy go ahead.
The letter, signed by more than 40 tourism groups, states: “The Scottish Government’s decision to step out of alignment with Europe and England in relation to the easing of international travel restrictions not only adds a further significant adverse impact on the recovery of Scotland’s tourism industry, but also to its whole supply chain.
"The long-term impact and costs are and will be significant. Our 2022 season is now at serious risk.
"Visitors are making plans and decisions around travel now. Scotland has now become one of the most uncompetitive destinations globally.
“It compounds the level of economic self-harm being inflicted by a policy from which the details of the health benefits are still to be understood.
“We recognise the need for a number of competing harms to be tackled, but have growing concern that the immediate risk to jobs, well-being and the economy is not receiving the crisis attention or understanding of detail required.”
The letter concludes by demanding a meeting with ministers and senior officials to discuss how to “redress this imbalance” and tackle the “immediate risk to key sectors and businesses”.
Marc Crothall, the chief executive of the STA, said “serious alarm” had been caused by the testing policy and he called for the scientific evidence supporting it.
He said: “It is the grave concern of many that international bookings, revenue and visitors are being lost not just now, but should this policy remain, it could destroy any hopes of recovery in 2022.
"Unless there is a swift change, the Scottish Government’s position on international travel will effectively write off international tourism to Scotland for another year to the detriment of our businesses, communities, supply chain and wider economy.
“This policy is causing immediate damage to revenues and represents high risk self-harm for jobs and the economy in the short, medium and long term”
Dr Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said she was “shocked” by the decision not to align with the rest of the UK.
She said: “This is not only about the tourism and travel industry, it touches every part of our economy. Do we seriously believe that our economy will grow and we will be able to attract investment, without being connected and accessible to the world?”
Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross told MPs the policy divergence by the Scottish Government was having a “huge impact” on the tourism industry and questioned: “What can the Secretary of State do to convince the Scottish Government to follow the lead of the UK Government and ensure these industries are not put at risk?”
Transport secretary Grant Shapps replied: “I do encourage all parts of the UK to come together on this. It is incredibly confusing for passengers … that takes money out of the Scottish economy, it threatens jobs in Scotland and it threatens the airline capacity, and I think the faster we can get this resolved the better.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “No decision has been made as yet regarding day two PCR testing. Any decision will be informed by clinical advice and analysis of the economic implications
"We fully recognise the impact the pandemic has had on our tourism and hospitality businesses, and continue to engage with the sectors in an effort to mitigate economic harms.
“While we want to maintain a four-nations approach to these matters, we also need to consider the implications on Scotland. We understand that Wales and Northern Ireland share our concerns.”