A Fife travel firm that had sales of £1 million in 2019 says it will be lucky to make £20,000 this year.
Kirkcady-based Best of Scotland Holidays specialises in tailored luxury tours, predominantly for American visitors.
Duncan Dewar has built the business over the last 38 years to have an extensive customer base and five staff.
From a seven-figure turnover two years ago, last year the tour operator had income of just £9,000.
Duncan has seen many ups and downs in the travel industry over the years but says he’s never seen anything like the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s soul destroying just to see the way it’s going,” he says.
“Anytime there’s any trouble in the world, bookings get cancelled and people are frightened to travel.
“We’ve never had anything like this.”
Best of Scotland Holidays hit hard
As the country went into lockdown March last year, Duncan’s bookings were cancelled one by one.
Some were moved to this summer, as he thought the country would be ready for tourists again.
Now he is certain the industry won’t recover this year.
He says: “My gut feeling is that 2021 is not going to happen at all.
“I really can’t see the country opening up this year.
“We’ve moved the holidays for 2021 over to 2022 and some to 2023.
“Everything has to move, and that has an impact.
“There are maybe 600 companies like mine in the UK, and we’re all doing the same.
“There’s not going to be space for everybody, any new bookings that come in we are going to struggle for space, because everyone has been moved.”
Another government grant vital
A Scottish Government grant and the furlough scheme has helped the Waverley Road firm stay afloat.
Tour operators benefited from grants of up to £25,000 per premises in addition to other support.
Now that this year’s season is off the table, Duncan is calling for another government grant.
He says: “All inbound tour operators in Scotland got a grant, which we are very grateful for.
“However, that grant was paid for 2020. We thought would be running in 2021, we’re not, so we are looking for another grant from the Scottish Government to see us through.
“That’s what is needed to safeguard staff and we would also like furlough extended for the travel industry.”
The furlough scheme is due to end at the end of September.
Duncan does not know yet what will happen to his business and staff after the scheme ends.
Inbound tourism to the UK is worth £28.4 billion a year, making it the fifth largest tourism economy in the world, according to UK Inbound.
If tour operators go under, Duncan fears it will be very difficult to keep the revenue up after the pandemic.
‘Most difficult thing ever’
Best of Scotland Holidays tried to tap into the staycation market last summer, without success.
Its target market, Americans, relies on Duncan’s expertise to put together a tour of Scotland, England, Wales or Ireland.
Many of his customers also get a private driver for their holiday in Britain.
Duncan says: “With the best will in the world, British people aren’t going to buy that from us.
“Not just in my business life, but my personal life as well, this is the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced.
“But I’m an eternal optimist, so we will get through it.
“Nothing so far has stopped me and I’ll be damned if this stops me.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson says it has put a wide range of measures in place to support the travel sector.
“VisitScotland delivered a £15m Covid-19 funding scheme for inbound international and day tour operators supporting almost 190 businesses across Scotland,” the spokesperson says.
“Scotland is offering the most comprehensive non-domestic rates relief in the UK for retail, hospitality and aviation and this includes inbound tour operators.
“We were the first country in the UK to extend 100% non-domestic rates relief into 2021-22.”