Coronavirus (COVID-19): Scottish Tourism Recovery Taskforce minutes: August 2020

Minutes and papers from the third meeting of the STRT in August 2020.

Attendees and apologies


  • Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism
  • Jamie Hepburn, Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills
  • Malcolm Roughead, CEO, VisitScotland
  • Marc Crothall, CEO, Scottish Tourism Alliance
  • Malcom Buchanan, Chair of Scotland Board RBS
  • Willie Macleod, Executive Director, UK Hospitality in Scotland
  • Stephen Leckie, CEO of Crieff Hydro and Chair STA
  • Angela Vickers, Apex Hotels, Chair HIT Scotland
  • Gordon Dewar, CEO, Edinburgh Airport
  • Robbie Drummond, CEO Calmac
  • Duncan McConchie, SOSE board, owner of Laggan Outdoors
  • Peter Duthie, MD of SEC
  • Elspeth Sutton (for Jeanette Wilson), British Holiday and Home Parks Assoc
  • Rebecca Brooks, CEO Abbey Tours, VS Board
  • Alastair Dobson, MD, Taste of Arran
  • Mark Tate, Scottish Chambers of Commerce 
  • Calum Ross, Proprietor, Loch Melfort Hotel, Chairman UKH Scotland, HIE Board
  • Derek Brownlee, RBS (deputising for Malcolm Buchanan)
  • Lucy Husband, Scotland Food and Drink, UK Market Development Director
  • Gordon Morrison, CEO, ASVA
  • Susan Morrison, ASVA
  • Susan Russell, Chair, Women in Tourism
  • Lord Thurso, Chair, VisitScotland
  • Alan Rankin, Chief Executive, Sail Scotland
  • Caroline Millar, Go Rural for Business
  • Paul McCafferty (for Jane Martin, MD, Business Services and Advice) Scottish Ent.
  • Paul Togneri, Scottish Beer and Pub Assoc
  • Professor Anna Leask, Tourism & Languages Subject Group, Edinburgh Napier Uni
  • Colin Smith, CEO, Scottish Wholesale Association
  • Lucy Byatt, Director, the Hospitalfield Trust, Arbroath
  • Suzanne Cumisky, Chair SLAED, Perth and Kinross Council
  • David Sutherland, Director, North Highland Escapes
  • Stephen Montgomery, multiple site operator


  • Jonathan Pryce, Scottish Government
  • Bettina Sizeland, Scottish Government
  • Duncan Mackay, Scottish Government
  • Kevin Brady, Scottish Government
  • Lawrence Durden, Skills Development Scotland, STERG
  • Karen Christie, Scottish Tourism Alliance, STERG
  • Anna Miller, HIE
  • Katy Bowman – Scottish Government


  • Freda Newton, MD, Jacobite Cruises
  • Gary Cox, Transport Scotland
  • Frances Pacitti, Transport Scotland
  • Richard Hardy, Prospect Union
  • Stephen Deans, Unite Union

Items and actions


  • Marc Crothall welcomed all members
  • No comments were received regarding the minutes of the meeting of 10th July. 

Opening Comments

Mr Ewing

  • Thanked STA for their work representing the sector.
  • Over a month into reopening, some areas doing well, but others like hotels have varying experiences.  We know real challenges remain  - visitor attractions find social distancing a significant issue for viable financial operations and want to see the same relaxations as other sectors.  The wedding sector is also a concern.  However, the Aberdeen situation demonstrates need for continued vigilance. 
  • The Good to Go scheme is proving popular and provides the assurance the public need. 
  • Acutely aware that expiry of furlough will see major difficulties for business.  Pressing UK Government on further support. The situation in London is very difficult, which might help the UKG consider further support.

Mr Hepburn:

  • Apologies for missing the last meeting.
  • Pleased to see the taskforce work continuing. 
  • The reopening of the sector has seen a welcome return to business for many but very much aware it’s not an easy time for tourism and hospitality

Stimulating Demand (Malcolm Roughead)

  • Minutes of 3rd meeting 17/8 and papers had been circulated.  Malcolm set out a number  of the issues and recommendations which were set out in much more detail in the attached papers, including:
    • Availability of product. People are looking for things to see and do so businesses need to be clear if open
    • 6.5k sign-ups on Good to Go.  VS following up with businesses on support
    • APD waiver - UKG decision, but important stimulus esp for international market. 
    • Business events – need to consider pilots.  Value of sector immense, and will help city hotels.  Need to push as fast as possible - Scotland already punches above its weight and need to secure this.
    • Skiing a golden opportunity for UK centres given difficulty in skiers going abroad to their usual venues
    • International marketing still affected by quarantine issue, but very clear there is demand. We know Scotland still rates highly in desirability, but competitor markets also ramping up their activity so looking for increase in VS marketing budget
    • Continuation of EOHO scheme helpful, either continued right away or reintroduced at quieter time eg January.  Evidence is additional business, not just weekend displacement

Recovery group (Marc Crothall)

Papers had been circulated.  Marc highlighted the output from the discussions on this workstream including:

  • Immediate rescue recommendations – Recent ASVA survey shows social distancing 2m rule remains a big hurdle
  • Need for reopening dates eg  weddings, hotels and venues to accommodate events - need quick consideration of this as affects employment decisions.
  • Financial support – hotel support programme and events fund welcome but a number of businesses can’t open or generate the trade they need.  City accommodation levels low and so therefore are hospitality businesses.
  • Need support of Scot Gvmt  in making the case to UKG for issue like extension of temp VAT reduction, reduction in beer duty and expanding vat reduction eligibility,  tapering of business vat at the £85k level to encourage more smaller rural businesses to stay open year round, which will help demand, low cost loans extension

Other points made in support of the recommendations included:

  • food tourism recommendations  - several actions still very relevant from food tourism action plan 2018, short and longer term.  Actions include:
    • Support sourcing of scottish food and drink in as many locations as possible
    • Placing and sponsoring graduates,
    • Supply chain, regional showcase and food-groups, agri-tourism development.
  • Need for international business and impact of lack of business on number of operators across the sector.  Support package for intl market businesses needed
  • Workforce recovery – link to scotland outlook 2030 focus on people.  Early ask to find mechanism to support emerging talent up to 1000 individuals.
  • Brexit and ending of free movement looms.  Migration policy needs to be flexible to support tourism businesses attracting staff.
  • Fair and safe work charter. Sits firmly in the heart of scotland outlook 2030.

Investment (Malcolm Buchanan)

Malcolm covered the group’s two discussion thus far and that the major factor in the short term was preserving cashflow.   Recommendations could be divided into those needing SG engagement with UKG and those which were for SG consideration.

Recommendations for SG engaging with UKG included:

  • Fiscal – vat extension, delaying deferred VAT payments etc
  • Schemes – furlough extension, deferring loan repayments, extend EOHO etc

Recommendations for SG consideration included:

  • Extending 100 rates relief extra year,
  • Deferral of NDR repayments
  • Introduce gvmt back equity loan scheme (thurso model)
  • Extension of PERF
  • Equity of treatment of Airbnb with rest of sector
  • Grant support to local tourism businesses
  • Debt management advice
  • VS marketing masterclass and associated voucher
  • SNIB role in light of covid?
  • Encourage green tourism
  • Provide access to sg maintenance budget
  • Cyber capability financial support
  • Amend planning regulations where these conflict with growth
  • Consider SG furlough scheme if no UKG extension

There was a discussion around the significance of the international travel issue and concerns raised that neither UKG or SG was recognising this or doing enough.  The stop-start decision-making on quarantine was stopping any international travel that might have happened in autumn, and there was clear demand expressed for testing procedures over quarantine and blanket bans.  There were strong views around the need for much greater international collaboration between governments.

Next steps (Bettina Sizeland)

  • Important that these sessions are honest and highlight the real issues
  • Appreciate the hard work in pulling this together.  We will work with STERG to pull recommendations into report for Cabinet.  Timeframes are tight as we need to feed priorities into spending review process.  Recommendations are a rich source of evidence to make the case and provide a menu for short term support and longer term interventions
  • Link to 2030 tourism strategy.  As important now as back in March. Level of ambition still there but landscape and starting point have changed beyond worst expectations and estimated visitor numbers and spend down hugely.
  • Long term recovery path uncertain, and international travel likely to take much longer to recover than domestic.
  • Recognise the need to address issues, but have the circumstances also created new opportunities?
  • Investment work-stream’s financing options are complex but provide scope for support and recovery. 
  • Will come back with report draft via one final plenary in September to ensure we have agreement on a final report and recommendations.

Ministerial Comments (closing)

Mr Hepburn

  • Appreciated the wide ranging and frank discussion.  Lots of possible solutions so will need to be a degree of prioritisation. 
  • Opportunity to look at wider SG work, eg on city centres, skills policy etc
  • Next phase is how to we drill into the recommendations further and see what we want to take forward.

Mr Ewing

  • Appreciated the participation from all members.  We have a very broad sector covering whole spectrum of different businesses, although this makes the task of identifying priorities more challenging.
  • Pleased we’ve achieved success in staycation market despite ongoing difficulties in handling covid and its resurgence, but we are not really in recovery phase yet.  Aware of businesses who have not had any help yet but working hard with UKG on this.
  • Prioritisation is a key issue, and the core of government business.  In the financial asks, we need a clear idea of the top priorities.  Appreciate different view on what these are but need a package we can take forward, but we won’t abandon the lower priorities.
  • Growing pressure on hotspot areas associated with dirty camping, large vehicles etc.  Keen to get taskforce thoughts as we want tourism to be seen as a good thing by local communities, not a difficult pressure.
  • Work is proceeding on short term opportunities for training and work.  Subsidising wages to protect jobs is pricey but we have to help people in this difficult position.
  • Appreciate the points about the reality of international inbound tourism being so essential for so many businesses.  May need UK summit on how we deal with this at international level but happy to have a separate discussion on that. Level of uncertainty is unprecedented, but impact is huge.  May need to consider what other countries are doing in devising solutions.  APD may just be a small part of it.

Final Comments (Marc Crothall)

  • Work underway around dirty camping agenda with key stakeholders.
  • SG officials to provide date for next meeting. 
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