The head of the tourism trade body in the Western isles has called for ‘urgent’ confirmation by the Scottish Government over travel arrangements for the islands as Covid-19 restrictions begin to lift.
The fear surrounding the uncertainty over the arrangements is causing island tourism businesses to lose trade even now.
Last week First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced an easing of some restrictions from 26 April, and that included a complete lifting of restrictions on travel within mainland Scotland but excluded travel to and from the islands.
Ms Sturgeon said that if restrictions on socialising and hospitality “are relaxed more quickly and significantly” on the islands, “there may be a need to retain some restrictions on travel to and from the mainland to protect island communities from the importation of new cases.”
Ms Sturgeon added: “However, rather than impose that decision now on our island communities, we intend to discuss it directly with them to determine what arrangements they consider will work best for their circumstances.”
But this week, Rob McKinnon, Chief Executive of Outer Hebrides Tourism called for those arrangements to be clarified and said that island tourism businesses had been left “in limbo".
Mr McKinnon said: “While businesses on the mainland can now take bookings with confidence, those on the islands are only seeing cancellations due to the current uncertainty.
“Businesses have had to survive a very curtailed season last year and already have a delayed start to the 2021 season. Some business have not operated since October 2019. Government support is very welcome, but for most people it reduces the costs they face, but does not replace their income.
“We are asking for the Government to provide an even playing field for island and mainland-based businesses and to urgently confirm travel arrangements for the islands.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We know many businesses and some communities are keen to open as soon as is safe to do so, but that others are more nervous of the impacts of doing so.
“We want the tourism sector to get back to normal as soon as it is safely possible, but as the First Minister has set out we must move very carefully to ensure continued suppression of the virus. If we open up too much, too quickly then we risk a resurgence of the virus. We must also do this in a way that carries most support from island residents and communities and will give them confidence and reassurance that it is safe for people to visit our islands and also for islanders to visit the mainland.
“As the First Minister set out, meetings are taking place this week with island local authorities and we will engage with island community groups, businesses and tourism organisations to discuss what arrangements they consider will work best for their circumstances.”