Scottish coach operators warn of crisis as tourism collapses

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A number of operators in Scotland have spoken out recently about the potentially devastating impact of COVID-19. Edinburgh’s Evening News reported that the city’s hotels predict large-scale job losses, while coach operators and taxi owners say they are on the brink of collapse and businesses including bars and restaurants deprived of their usual summer income may not be able to weather the storm.

For Edinburgh, the cancellation of the Festivals, which generate a lot of money for the tourist trade in and around the city, is a further blow, meaning that even if restrictions are eased, the summer season looks likely to be a poor one.

Edinburgh Coach Lines are amongst the companies expressing concern at the industry’s ability to survive not just the summer downturn but also the traditionally quieter winter period which will follow. RICHARD WALTER

“For a lot of Edinburgh businesses, the Festival and the summer season is where they make the money that sustains them for the rest of the year,” Garry Clark of the Federation of Small Businesses told the Evening News.

Neil Bailey, Operations Manager of Edinburgh Coach Lines, told the newspaper that firms such as his were ‘at the very edge of closure’ because there was no specific support available to them: “By its very nature the coach tourism industry is a seasonal one with many companies such as ours running at or close to a loss during the winter and using the busier summer season to support the business through the next winter period.

“We are likely facing an 18 month period of little to no work to sustain our business. If industry specific support isn’t offered soon I fear that we may see a near total industry collapse in weeks. We don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel and what frightens us is how on earth do we survive next winter when government grants and furloughing won’t be around. We would have to look at making staff redundant. We’re looking for a package that will see us through to next March when we see start to see tourists again.”

Gary Rutherford, Owner and Director at Glenfarg-based Earnside Coaches, which employs 17 staff, told Dundee’s The Courier newspaper: “My company, and many others like us, are finding ourselves on the very edge of closure. If industry specific support isn’t offered soon, I fear we may see a near total industry collapse in weeks. We understand that many industries are suffering, however, there are some unique factors for the coach industry that means we are being hit particularly hard.”

“The coach industry needs a bespoke grant if it is to survive,” he told the newspaper.

Also speaking to The Courier, Jason Rodgers, Transport Manager of JP Coaches in Forfar said: “Our industry seems to have fallen between the cracks, because the funding that is available for bus companies is only for service runs like Stagecoach. We do get help with rates, but the shortfall we are facing is massive. All of our tours until the end of May have been completely cancelled, and I can see that continuing through June. Sadly, I can see a lot of companies won’t make it out of this.”

A lack of incoming tourists over the summer season will mean that many companies find it hard to stay afloat over the winter, operators have warned. RICHARD WALTER

The CPT has called upon the Scottish Government to provide concrete measures of assistance to secure the future of the industry warning that short-term support could just delay problems.

CPT Scotland Director Paul White told the newspaper that inaction could lead to redundancies up and down the country: “At what is traditionally the beginning of the busiest time of the year for the coach industry, we are witnessing a crisis with a collapse in bookings and unprecedented cancellations. The coach sector is often taken for granted but it is a key part of Scotland’s sustainable tourism offering. This is a sector that employs 4,000 people directly and essentially supports countless visitor attractions and hotels by facilitating thousands of tourist trips each day.”

“We need the Scottish Government to communicate clear guidance to local authorities to support the bus and coach operators they work with. Short term loans will only delay financial issues. More concrete measures of assistance are required to secure the long term future of the sector. If we don’t support the industry now, the longer term implications will be more cars on our roads, greater congestion and missed climate change targets.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government responded to the claims by saying that: “Our support for business now exceeds the business support consequentials passed on from the UK Government and actively works to fill the gaps in the UK scheme. The new package of measures announced last week extends the Small Business Grant and the £25,000 Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Scheme in response to feedback from business.

“A further £100 million fund is also being made available to protect self-employed people and viable micro and SME businesses in distress. We promised to pass on every penny received from the UK Government to businesses in Scotland and that’s what we are doing. We will continue to listen to and engage with the sector.”