A new kind of normal

Tourism was one of the businesses most affected by the outbreak of coronavirus, and the normal Highland welcome had to be put on hold until the middle of summer.

Although some businesses were able to access local council and Government grants to help them, many sadly slipped through the net especially new businesses that started up last year, and for some the financial strain proved too much and they have now permanently closed. It was with some relief that as lockdown measures began to relax, some areas of tourism began to start to re-open and quickly adapted to the new regulations.

Some of our favourite eating spots could offer takeaways and new pop-up and drive-throughs began to appear. Next were self-catering cottages, where people could visit and stay in a self-contained environment, a chance for them to escape the pressure of life with Covid in more urban settings.

Then finally in the middle of July restrictions were lifted on other forms of hospitality with bars and restaurants and other holiday accommodation re-opening. However, it was a different welcome to what guests are used to: no warm handshakes, friendly smiles now hidden behind masks and chats about places to visit now with a safe two metres between you. Strict cleaning regimes are now in place, and there are pages of Covid regulations to follow. Normally you had your temperature checked at the doctor’s but now its common place before entering a restaurant, and contact details are needed wherever you visit. Reservations need to be made early for accommodation and restaurant tables as social distancing measures mean fewer places are available.

Despite all of this, Scotland remains one of the popular places to visit, and due to our low numbers of Covid cases and travel restrictions on overseas holidays it appears to have become the staycation destination. With this increase in numbers come some issues; more traffic and parking issues, increased litter and people not used to wild camping and to rules proving disrespectful to local areas. Hopefully, the concerns being raised will mean more education for visitors, new infrastructure, and clearer rules which will benefit both visitors and local residents. So, what does the remainder of the 2020 season hold for tourism businesses? Bookings seem to be buoyant, and government discount schemes in August boosted restaurant services on quieter days. Many businesses are considering longer seasons to re-coup lost income, with many re- structuring the services they provide both now and in the future. The long-closed season and time at home has also meant many are now re- evaluating their work life balance, with free and family time more precious than ever.

As for the 2021 season, no one has a crystal ball; perhaps we will have a vaccine and life will have returned to normal or maybe Covid restrictions will carry on into next year. No matter what, we will all be working to welcome guests safely and make their long awaited (and for some much-needed) break as enjoyable as possible.

by Tracey Smith, secretary HOST

www.heartofsutherland.co.uk

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