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

Minutes and papers from the first meeting of the STRT on 25 June 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
  • 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
  • Freda Newton, MD, Jacobite Cruises
  • Robbie Drummond, CEO Calmac
  • Duncan McConchie, SOSE board, owner of Laggan Outdoors
  • Peter Duthie, MD of SEC
  • David Sutherland, Director, North Highland Escapes
  • 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
  • Malcolm Buchanan, Chair of Scotland Board RBS
  • Lucy Husband, Scotland Food and Drink, UK Market Development Director
  • Gordon Morrison, CEO, ASVA (deputising for Susan Morrison, ASVA, CEO Scotch Whisky Experience)
  • Susan Russell, Chair, Women in Tourism
  • Lord Thurso, Chair, VisitScotland
  • Stephen Montgomery, President, SLTA
  • Alan Rankin, Chief Executive, Sail Scotland
  • Caroline Millar, Go Rural for Business
  • Paul McCafferty, SE Tourism Strategic Lead (deputising for Jane Martin, Managing Director, Business Services and Advice, Scottish Enterprise)
  • Professor Anna Leask, Tourism and Languages Subject Group, The Business School, Edinburgh Napier University
  • Colin Smith, CEO, Scottish Wholesale Association
  • Richard Hardy, Prospect Union
  • Stephen Deans, Unite Union
  • Lucy Byatt, Director, the Hospitalfield Trust, Arbroath
  • Suzanne Cumisky, Chair SLAED, Perth and Kinross Council 


  • Bettina Sizeland, Scottish Government
  • Jonathan Pryce, Scottish Government
  • Duncan Mackay, Scottish Government
  • Kevin Brady, Scottish Government
  • Lawrence Durden, Skills Development Scotland, STERG
  • Chris Greenwood, VisitScotland
  • Karen Christie, Scottish Tourism Alliance, STERG
  • Frances Pacitti, Transport Scotland
  • Gary Cox, Transport Scotland
  • David Oxley, HIE
  • Anna Miller, HIE, STERG

Items and actions

Introductory comments from ministers

Mr Ewing noted that the individuals on the taskforce had considerable collective knowledge, experience, wisdom and imagination and that he was confident the group would use that to come up with, in fairly short order, a recovery plan for Scottish Tourism. The group needed to develop a series of recommendations which would influence Scottish tourism, but would also influence the UK Government with whom Mr Ewing has regular contact through Tourism Minister Nigel Huddleston. 

Mr Hepburn noted that Ministers were acutely aware of the difficult circumstances being faced by the business community, the wider economy and Scottish tourism in particular. The importance of the tourism sector to the Scottish economy was widely recognised, and therefore we need to ensure it is up and running quickly. The challenges are well known. In tackling these we would want to emphasise the role of the workforce in terms of the provision of good quality jobs. This is an ambition shared across the sector and an issue we were keenly concerned with, pre-Covid, in the  context of Brexit. 

Introduction to Taskforce 

Bettina Sizeland gave a presentation on the aims and objectives of the taskforce and the timescale in which these were set. See attached slides (paper 1)

Economic recovery 

Kevin Brady provided an overview of the current economic situation and how it related to tourism. See attached slides (paper 2)

Summary of STERG work  

Malcolm Roughead and Chris Greenwood provided an overview of the work of the STERG which had been set up in March to respond to the emerging Covid-19 crisis. 

The STERG comprises representatives of COSLA, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Skills Development Scotland, the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, South of Scotland Enterprise, the Scottish Tourism Alliance and VisitScotland.

A national action plan is in development covering four key areas - Respond, Reset, Restart and Recover.

VS has been looking at interventions abroad and is considering whether we could implement them or learn from them in what we do for Scotland.

Malcolm highlighted the amount of work that had gone into producing sectoral guidance, the newly launched “We’re Good to Go” scheme and community engagement. See attached slides (Paper 3)

Emerging key priorities - Bettina

Bettina Sizeland summarised the responses that had been submitted by members on their thinking about the key priorities for the Taskforce. See attached slides (Paper 4)

Open discussion

Following the summary of the key emerging themes and examples of the sorts of intervention that could be undertaken there was an open discussion. 

Key points included:

  • need to understand and set the level of ambition so we can plan or suggest interventions of the right and a realistic scale, bearing in mind the size of the challenge
  • general agreement that the three overarching themes are the right ones and that the taskforce be split into three groups to take these forward. Workstreams will also need to bear in mind the transition get us back on track for Scotland Outlook 2030 strategy
  • there is a need to get the industry moving quickly. Despite the positive announcements about reopening, there is clearly nervousness amongst the public about booking and therefore nervousness amongst the sector about the level of businesses. This is exacerbated by activity happening in England and Ireland ahead of us – there will be stiff competition to win these audiences, so we need to be encouraging bookings in the next 2-3 weeks
  • need to extend season over the winter months. Until April next year, the industry is in difficulty and reliant on the success of the VS marketing campaign. Business tourism, banqueting season, festive tourism are all critical, so need to consider monthly strategies to maximise income over the winter months
  • financing is a key issue. Over £30bn of support UK-wide in terms of loans and bounce-back support, but there is a longer term need to consider how the sector can refinance itself. Many businesses had invested in product but are now focusing on sustainability and survival. Small businesses in particular may not have the working capital to restart. Businesses may need to restructure balance sheets having taken on additional debt to get through lockdown. There are still more hurdles to get over such as JRS ending, payments breaks running out for loans and taxes etc. Impact on this is risk of a lack of future reinvestment in product which will mean we lose competitiveness. CityUK work on recapitalisation sets out possible solutions for businesses who have taken on debt
  • need immediate concerted effort to build community sentiment behind the industry especially in rural communities. VS marketing messages are a part of this but it’s a broader political message which needs to be issued loud and clear
  • investment in the workforce needs to be maintained. There had been a lot of good work in apprenticeship schemes in hospitality in recent years. These themes were part of OUTLOOK 2030 agenda with organisations like HITScotland’s programme for emerging talent, but we need to protect the organisations doing this good work. Leadership, people and skills are and will remain key issues for the  sector. The skills agenda was certainly very strong pre-Covid in the context of Brexit when we were looking for talent and thinking about a Scottish VISA to help ensure supply of skilled foreign workers. The extension of furlough will be critical in helping businesses hang on to as many staff as possible – the risk of up to 70k job losses will mean loss of key skills crucial to the sector eg languages. Looking beyond the furlough scheme, it’s about retaining and upskilling emerging talent
  • quick appraisal of wholesale and supply chain situation is needed to ensure to can support sector reopening. 50% of supply chain at breaking point. In rural areas in particular the supply chain is complex and one piece falling down can have a severe impact. On the plus side we have a fantastic opportunity to place food and drink in conscience of communities. Complex network of supply chain in rural areas
  • local supply has been very strong within retail market place. An emerging trend where people have increasingly bough locally has been positive, with farm shop turnover increased fivefold in some cases. We need to maintain this in stimulating demand for food and drink
  • the size of the tourism economy shouldn’t be underestimated and speed is vital in addressing the many businesses are struggling to survive. n we get any actions completed before september. Stimulating consumer demand is an urgent need

Closing comments from Ministers

Mr Ewing noted it had been a useful initial discussion. The group’s job is to come up with recommendations by the end of August but he noted there was a job to be done right now, comprising three key elements: getting financial support out, reassuring communities that it is safe, and stimulating demand in the very short term. Each of these is key and we are working on these.  

Community assurance is a role for all in national and local government, business, agencies and marketing campaigns. VisitScotland will launch its marketing campaign at the right time and will continue to engage with key businesses on the messaging. VS will host a Parliamentary event to provide all MSPS with the reassurance messaging around tourism being safe.

Mr Ewing noted the scale of ambition should be extremely high. Discussion should not be limited by what budget is available now. A serious and practical report in August can influence governmental thinking, and we have been working constructively with UKG and want to continue doing so.  

Mr Hepburn thanked the members and noted the discussion has reinforced what was laid out as the way forward in terms of the medium and long term asks, but without losing sight of the more immediate requirements. 

STRT meeting 1: paper 1 - introductory slides

STRT meeting 1: paper 2 - economic outlook presentation

STRT meeting 1: paper 3 - VS presentation STERG activity

STRT meeting 1: paper 4 - emerging priorities

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