Scotland could remain closed to tourists for the duration of the summer, one of the country’s tourism chiefs has warned.
Riddell Graham, director of VisitScotland, criticised the UK government's mixed messages on domestic travel and warned that Britons hoping to enjoy a remote escape in the Highlands in the coming months could be disappointed.
"The position in England is different to Scotland at the moment,” he said. “That causes confusion. We want to make sure that that is reduced to the minimum level."
VisitScotland had been lobbying behind the scenes for a UK-wide approach to the tourism industry, but the lockdown in Scotland, where you are only allowed to leave your home for essential reasons, remains tighter than in England.
Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland, said on Monday: “If you are in Scotland, then the law in Scotland applies - and the law says that just now you can only be out of your own home for essential reasons." She also stressed that "it is not OK to drive into Scotland to beauty spots to visit places and for leisure".
This was in marked contrast to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement last weekend. He stated that people can now travel within the UK, regardless of distance - so long as there is social distancing.
Graham said that the main concern for Scottish residents is the region’s ability to manage potential impact on hotspots.
He said: "Some parts of Scotland have had little or no infections. They want to make sure that that doesn't change through an influx of visitors from outsiders. There is a very delicate balance to be struck.”
Graham rejected the idea that visitors could travel to Scotland this summer, however, he is “hopeful” that there will be a partial re-opening some time this year and it might be that different parts of Scotland open in different ways.
David Whiteford, chair of the North Highland Initiative, agreed. “We do need to be mindful of the concerns of our communities and open up gently and there will need to be new advice and guidance and Quality Assurance schemes for every sector, I would have thought,” he said.
With festival and event cancellations stretching well into autumn, many of Scotland’s businesses in the tourism industry recognise that they could be some of the last to emerge from lockdown.
Chris Taylor, regional leadership director of the Highlands and Outer Hebrides, at VisitScotland, said health and safety should be the priority. “Getting tourism back up and running is crucial to the overall recovery of Scotland,” he said. “But first and foremost it has to be done in a safe way.”