RURAL TOURISM and hospitality businesses should prepare for a provisional return to trading from July 15.

The announcement was made on wednesday (June 10) by rural economy and tourism secretary Fergus Ewing and will be subject to public health advice and progression to Phase 3 of the Scottish Government lockdown route-map.

“I’ve been engaging with businesses since the beginning of the outbreak and I have heard their calls for more clarity which today I can provide,” said Mr Ewing. “Businesses should start to prepare for a provisional return to trading – with appropriate safety guidelines – on the 15th July 2020.

“This date cannot be definitive and is conditional on public health advice and progression to Phase 3 of the route map. Businesses must now use this time to satisfy the necessary regulations and adapt to the new way of living.”

Head of policy at Scottish Land & Estates, Stephen Young, welcomed the statement: “The intended resumption of tourism and hospitality on July 15 is hugely welcome news for Scotland’s rural economy.

“We recently established that 90% of 250 rural businesses we surveyed felt they were well-equipped to reopen safely. The Scottish Government has said it will publish guidance next week for the tourism and hospitality sectors and this should hopefully provide even greater confidence for the restart.

“It would be our preference to see self-catering or caravan sites open earlier if possible but we acknowledge that government faces a delicate balance to move at the correct pace of reopening, especially with its stated objective of tourism and transport sectors resuming in tandem. Rural areas are helped by having more space and most guests will travel by private transport to accommodation, so an opportunity does exist to expedite the resumption of rural tourism.

NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick stressed the impact cancellations have had on the industry and the willingness of many to re-open sooner rather than later: “Agritourism is the cornerstone of visitor and tourism economies in many of Scotland’s rural areas and has seen significant expansion in the last decade. As a valued and profitable part of many agricultural businesses, a vast number of cancelled bookings, processed refunds and financial losses during the Covid-19 lockdown has put a huge financial strain on many farms.

“Whilst some agritourism ventures have been able to access the packages of support from Scottish and UK Government, the financial losses already incurred by these businesses due to closure are significant with a knock-on impact for the wider rural economy,” he stressed.

“Many of those in rural areas operating on a self-catering basis had felt that compliance with social distancing requirements could have been achieved, providing a safe environment for guests in order to allow an earlier start up. A further delay of six weeks may be frustrating for those businesses which have proactively put plans and measures in place,” he concluded.