Orkney’s tourism industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, but a major effort is now underway behind the scenes to support the sector in the islands.
Destination Orkney, the body that represents around 500 tourism businesses in the county, is working with a range of national and local agencies in a bid to help steer its members through this unprecedented crisis.
Tourism generates around £50 million a year for the Orkney economy, supporting hundreds of jobs in the islands. A recent survey by national tourism agency VisitScotland revealed that 99% of Orkney tourism businesses responding had experienced cancellations because of the pandemic, with the majority facing losses of up to £50,000. This amounts to a direct loss of value of over £1 million to Orkney’s tourism industry.
A third of the business surveyed said they didn’t know how they would survive without public funding, with half seeking long-term relief from tax, mortgage and rent payments.
Staff numbers throughout the sector locally have also been cut significantly, with the majority of Orkney tourism businesses surveyed saying they would be making more reductions in the coming months.
“It’s an understatement to say this is a very difficult time for our tourism businesses and, of course, the Orkney community in general,” said Elaine Tulloch, chief executive of Destination Orkney. “Our priority as an industry body over the past few weeks has been to support our members as much as possible and ensure they’re getting all the help and advice they need right now.”
Mrs Tulloch said Destination Orkney had been working closely with partners, local organisations, the Scottish Tourism Alliance, VisitScotland, Federation of Small Businesses and the Association of Scotland’s Self Caterers, in addition to feeding into business response efforts led by Orkney Islands Council.
“We’ve been taking all the relevant information and circulating it to our members by email,” she explained. “We’ve also had a lot of contact from businesses wondering what approach to take with cancellations, or exploring what assistance they can get to help them through this crisis. That support will continue as long as it’s needed.”
Nobody can accurately predict when restrictions will ease and allow the tourism industry in Scotland, and Orkney, to begin its recovery, but plans for that day are already being discussed.
“At the moment our focus is on just making sure the industry has all the information and support it needs, but we also have to think about what happens when we do finally emerge from this crisis,” said Mrs Tulloch. “To that end, we’re just starting to talk about a potential recovery plan with partners, which will be part of a national effort, though it’s at a very early stage. Many of our members are in survival mode and we have to be mindful of that, giving them our full attention. When the time is right, more of our attention will turn to the longer-term recovery plan and marketing efforts.”
Orkney’s community spirit and resilience is second to none and, as we’re seeing during this crisis, we know how to work together, support each other and strive towards a common goal.
“I’ve no doubts that, when the time comes, this same spirit of cooperation will see Orkney’s tourism industry recover. It’ll take time, and we have many difficult months ahead of us, but we have an amazing tourism offer and we’ll get there.”
The Promoting Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020