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Skye hotel boss: Rural hospitality firms under threat due to ‘horrendous storm’ of problems

Gary Curley, pictured with his wife Deirdre, says Brexit has caused staff shortages.
Gary Curley, pictured with his wife Deirdre, says Brexit has caused staff shortages.

Rural hospitality firms are facing a fight to survive due to Brexit causing staff shortages and the cost of living crisis, a Skye hotel owner has warned.

Gary Curley, 42, claimed bars and restaurants are enduring a “horrendous storm” of difficulties as they try to mount a recovery in the aftermath of Covid pandemic closures.

He said some Skye businesses can’t open seven days a week at the moment, while his own hotel has been forced to turn away some customers due to the worker shortage.

Mr Curley, who runs the island’s Sligachan Hotel, warned rural hospitality firms have long depended on workers from the EU since they have a smaller pool of local staff available.

He wants to see increased government support for businesses he believes act as the “lifeblood” of the Highland economy.

He told The Press and Journal: “When Brexit happened, a lot of our workers were so unsure about what the future would hold for them that they decided their future was more secure in their homeland.

‘Hospitality skills shortage’

“The government had no plan for how these workers could continue working or come back. What that’s led to is a skills shortage across the whole of hospitality.”

Mr Curley and his wife Deidre, who runs the hotel with him, hoped business would pick up again as Covid restrictions ended and tourists returned to Skye.

However, rising inflation and soaring energy bills are now taking their toll on the hospitality sector.

Research by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce this week found that firms across the country are in “crisis mode” as they struggle to bounce back.

Mr Curley said: “It’s a horrendous storm of things that are happening. Everyone wanted this to be a period of recovery.

I don’t think the government is doing enough for the hospitality industry.

– Gary Curley

“But we’ve got Brexit that’s caused shortages, we’ve had a pandemic where a lot of people left the industry to get more secure jobs, and we’ve got the cost of living squeeze, so people have less secure income.

“I don’t think the government is doing enough for the hospitality industry. The UK Government probably needs to look at reducing VAT again.”

Commerce chamber president Stephen Leckie urged the Scottish Government to extend rates reliefs for businesses further into next year.

Mr Curley also claimed that hiring staff is becoming more difficult because housing on Skye is too expensive for many younger residents.

Gary Curley’s hotel in Skye.

Typically his businesses on Skye would hope to employ around 45 workers during summer.

Instead they have around just 35 staff members at the moment.

Mr Curley said: “The Scottish Government needs to look at what’s happening here where we have a lack of affordable housing and a lack of social housing.

“We’re already behind in having enough housing. What’s that going to look like in 10 years if something drastic isn’t done?”

The hotel boss warned islands like Skye will struggle to survive without hospitality businesses aimed at tourists.

He said: “It’s such a huge part of Skye’s economic landscape.

“To have a diverse economy is a positive goal for any destination, but without the hospitality and tourism sector thriving, what you’re going to see is an economic decline.”

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