Scotland’s coach tourism industry is on the verge of collapse, bosses have warned.
Crisis-hit companies facing a bleak summer are demanding emergency financial aid to rescue the sector and avoid widespread job losses.
Trade body Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) wants the Scottish Government to provide “concrete measures of assistance” to secure the future of the industry, which provides work for 4,000 people around the country.
It warned that short-term support, which has proved tricky for some firms to access, could only delay problems.
Gary Rutherford, owner and director at Glenfarg-based Earnside Coaches, said: “My company, and many others like us, are finding ourselves on the very edge of closure.
“If industry specific support isn’t offered soon, I fear we may see a near total industry collapse in weeks.”
Mr Rutherford’s family-run firm was established by his grandfather in Bridge of Earn in 1968 and now employs 17 staff from Perthshire and Fife.
As well as transporting tourists to visitor attractions across Scotland, Earnside also helps get 200 children to and from school during term time, while supporting sports clubs and music groups.
“We understand that many industries are suffering,” said Mr Rutherford. “However, there are some unique factors for the coach industry that means we are being hit particularly hard.”
He said the busy summer season usually helps support the lean winter months but now the firm is facing 18 months with little or no work to keep the business afloat.
Mr Rutherford said the coach tourism industry is not eligible for emergency funding from the Scottish Government, and few firms have been able to access aid through the Coronavirus Business Support Fund, which does not include “coach” in its list of qualified businesses.
“The coach industry needs a bespoke grant if it is to survive,” he said.
Jason Rodgers, transport manager at Forfar’s JP Coaches added: “Our industry seems to have fallen between the cracks, because the funding that is available for bus companies is only for service runs like Stagecoach.
“We do get help with rates, but the shortfall we are facing is massive. All of our tours until the end of May have been completely cancelled, and I can see that continuing through June.
“Sadly, I can see a lot of companies won’t make it out of this.”
CPT Scotland director Paul White said inaction could lead to redundancies up and down the country.
“At what is traditionally the beginning of the busiest time of the year for the coach industry, we are witnessing a crisis with a collapse in bookings and unprecedented cancellations,” he said.
“The coach sector is often taken for granted but it is a key part of Scotland’s sustainable tourism offering. This is a sector that employs 4,000 people directly and essentially supports countless visitor attractions and hotels by facilitating thousands of tourist trips each day.”
He said: “We need the Scottish Government to communicate clear guidance to local authorities to support the bus and coach operators they work with. Short term loans will only delay financial issues.
“More concrete measures of assistance are required to secure the long term future of the sector. If we don’t support the industry now, the longer term implications will be more cars on our roads, greater congestion and missed climate change targets.”
Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance echoed calls for support.
“The urgent needs of the coach industry must not be overlooked at this critical time.
“I have had conversations on a daily basis with drivers and owners of coach businesses who are struggling now and will almost certainly find it overwhelmingly challenging to bounce back from the crisis as they will effectively be starting from point zero.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Our support for business now exceeds the business support consequentials passed on from the UK Government and actively works to fill the gaps in the UK scheme.
“The new package of measures announced last week extends the Small Business Grant and the £25,000 Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Scheme in response to feedback from business.
“A further £100 million fund is also being made available to protect self-employed people and viable micro and SME businesses in distress.”
He added: “We promised to pass on every penny received from the UK Government to businesses in Scotland and that’s what we are doing.
“We will continue to listen to and engage with the sector.”