A group of leading Scottish golf operators has made a plea to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon for help from “a clear and present danger” that the entire 2020 summer season could soon be lost.
Golf is worth around £270 million to the Scottish economy – an estimate reached by the government’s own agency for tourism, VisitScotland – but leading figures at the front line believe that if they remain locked down due to the coronavirus by the end of this month, they will be forced to close until April 2021.
The signatories to the letter include several leading golf tourism operators including Seamus Coen of Rusacks Hotel in St Andrews, David Roy from the Crail Golfing Society and David Scott, manager of the new Dumbarnie Links near Leven which was to have opened this summer.
“All of us in this vital sector should be moving into the busiest part of our year but as the lockdown continues we see a clear and present threat to Scottish tourism both in the short and medium term,” they write.
“If we are not able to operate profitably by the start of July then many of us will have no choice but to cease trading until next April, with sadly a number of businesses not even able to hold on until then.
“The possible return of golf for members in the next few days is welcome but does little or nothing for tourism – apart from further the growing frustration amongst both players and businesses.”
The proposed two week quarantine period for persons entering the UK “kills the global golf tourism market stone dead,” they point out.
“Golf tourism in Scotland is built on both domestic and international markets. If (the quarantine period is) imposed, we need a firm date when it will be lifted, or to be told it is here till the end of the season to give our booked clients the chance to cancel and free space for local and domestic bookings on both the golf courses and in the hotels.”
The group want a “clearer timescale” for full re-opening, and a support scheme for the tourism businesses.
“Whilst the extension of the furlough scheme until October 31 is helpful, the loss of our entire season revenue makes payment of that money on its own unsustainable,” the letter continues.
“We understand the furlough scheme is not to be extended but many of us will have no income all Summer and will not be in a position to survive the winter. We would ask that you give real consideration to some sort of support scheme for our businesses.”
The group also make a plea for a significant extension to rates relief “possibly up to five years”, and for another consideration to scrap Air Passenger Duty – “unlike many other European countries this onerous tax remains fully in force in Scotland”, they point out.
“With businesses and jobs now on the line, now is the time to prioritise the Scottish tourism industry and move ahead with abolition of APD.
“We would urge you to develop a post COVID 19 Quality Assurance Scheme which is consumer friendly and allows businesses in our sector to reassure their customers about the steps that have been taken to protect them.
“We note that this has already been done in the USA and the EU allowing businesses to open and rebuild after lockdown.”
The group also call for a permanent reduction in VAT for tourism businesses.
“Our only aim is to get our vital sector back on track in July – to save businesses and save jobs,” they continue. “We know that this will not be easy but with Scottish Government support we will apply ourselves to the task with renewed commitment.
“The measures we suggest will allow our businesses to emerge from lockdown with the best opportunity to rebuild the Scottish tourism industry and, in time, our huge financial contribution to the Scottish economy.”