Fife’s tourism sector is set to suffer a £300 million hit as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
A leaked report shows half of that figure could be lost in the north-east of the region alone, where the importance of St Andrews, its university and the East Neuk to the industry has once more been massively underlined.
Figures seen by The Courier put the overall value of tourism to Fife at just under £600 million, with 12,256 jobs – around nine percent of the region’s total employment – attributed to the sector.
However, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is predicting declines of 45% to 70% in the international tourism economy in 2020, and Office of National Statistics (ONS) research shows 62% of accommodation and food service businesses are reporting a decrease in turnover of more than 50%.
The bleak outlook is contained in an internal Fife Council report examining the potential impact of the Covid-19 crisis ahead of the reopening of much of the tourism sector on July 15.
St Andrews in particular is said to be worth £180 million to Fife’s total tourism value and the rest of North East Fife a further £108 million, sparking fears a 50% downturn would be catastrophic for the area.
North East Fife MSP Willie Rennie said: “A financial hit of £150 million would be extraordinary and we must do everything we can to prevent that. It would hit jobs and livelihoods.
“These last few months have been exceptionally difficult for everyone, and I want to thank everyone for their efforts fighting the virus. We needed everyone to stay at home to supress the virus. Risking the spread to a new area or falling ill and relying on the health services in that area was too great a risk.
“Now with restrictions eased and with these stark figures, we must welcome visitors from across Scotland in order to support our local economy.”
The area’s MP Wendy Chamberlain pointed to initiatives such as the StaySafe St Andrews campaign – effectively a Covid charter for businesses – as a good example of how the area will keep people safe.
“Tourism and seasonal work is clearly a significant part of our local economy, but these figures and estimations lay bare how hard we must work to support the local economy,” she added.
“We are lucky to live in one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland and the UK, and many people want to visit our home here.
“We needed to make the tough decision to ask everyone to stay away and stay at home during the crisis, but now we must welcome them to support our local economy again.”
Gordon Mole, head of business and employability at Fife Council, said the report was produced to give a “broad indication” of what might happen.
He added: “The true scale of the economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis remains largely unknown and uncertain.
“Much will depend on the length and nature of ongoing restrictions to control the global pandemic within the UK and worldwide; the success of these measures in suppressing further outbreaks of the virus; and subsequent consumer behaviours and demand following the easing of current restrictions on travel and social distancing.”
St Andrews suffering more than most – but fightback is on
St Andrews is one of Scotland’s top five destinations for tourists and it is hoped visitors will come flocking back.
Figures obtained by The Courier estimate 135,000 overnight visitors to Fife (19%) last year were from overseas; accounting for a total of 1,202,000 nights and a total overall spend of £109.4 million.
Of those, 3,000 (2%) were visiting for the purpose of study, accounting for a total of 328,000 nights (27%) and a total overall spend of £10.5 million – highlighting the significance of St Andrews University to tourism in Fife.
With international restrictions remaining in place, and events like The Open Golf Championship – a huge money-spinner for the area – pushed back until 2022, the town is working hard to demonstrate its commitment to safe working practices to encourage people to visit.
More than 300 local businesses and local community groups have come together to create the StaySafe St Andrews Charter, outlining the steps they have taken to promote safety.
It commits signatories to a ‘whole-town approach’ to meeting standards prescribed by government and is embodied by ‘five Cs’: clean, covering hygiene and cleaning protocols; considerate, providing appropriate protective equipment for staff and visitors and ensuring social distancing; cautious, by committing to effective and ongoing training and rapid response to any changes in guidance; clear communications, in terms of messages put out and on social media; and community-minded, taking steps to promote the local economy and ensuring accessibility for all.
Debbie MacCallum, chairwoman of Tourism St Andrews, said tourism accounted for one in five jobs in St Andrews so it was vital that everyone work together to protect the sector.
“By creating a clear and co-ordinated response to the challenges of tourism in a time of Covid 19, St Andrews will be able to protect our local communities while extending our world famous warm welcome to visitors coming to visit our wonderful beaches, shops, open spaces, golf and hospitality,” she added.
St Andrews councillor Jane Ann Liston said: “This excellent initiative comes from those who know how tourism in St Andrews actually works on the ground; there is no substitute for the local knowledge of grass-roots businesses.
“Tourism St Andrews has done its homework and we can now say loud and clear ‘Welcome back – St Andrews is open for business’.
Helen McBride, general manager of the Old Course Hotel, added: “Tourism St Andrews, with its Stay Safe St Andrews charter, clearly demonstrates that if we work together for the good of all, we will come back strongly from the challenges we have all faced from the covid-19 pandemic.”