Coronavirus impact on Edinburgh's Tourism Sector
Coronavirus is having a massive effect on tourism in Edinburgh and Scotland as a whole with hundreds of businesses wondering when they will be able to welcome visitors again.
In a recent article in The Scotsman, our Operations Manager, Neil Bailey was asked to comment to the issue. Here is the article for you all to read.
EDINBURGH’S tourism sector fears for its future because of the “devastating” impact of coronavirus on one of the city’s most important industries.
Hotels predict large-scale job losses, coach operators say they are on the brink of collapse and businesses like bars and restaurants deprived of their usual summer lifeline may not survive.
The current lockdown has seen everything close and hundreds of workers put on furlough with no clear idea of when that will change.
And the cancellation of the Festivals points to the prospect, even if some restrictions have been eased by then, of a summer season with many fewer international visitors.
“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,” said Garry Clark of the Federation of Small Businesses.
“If you think about the period before lockdown, we had a pretty grim January and February weatherwise, it wasn’t great for people to be out and about visiting the city, then we were straight into lockdown, we have a cancelled Festival – it’s going to be incredibly tough to sustain businesses through that and undoubtedly there will be a lot of businesses that don’t make it, even with the support that’s on offer.”
He said tourism was predicted to be one of the big losers from the pandemic and hospitality was expected to be one of the last sectors to come out of the UK-wide lockdown.
And even after that, there was still uncertainty.
“If we are going to see social distancing rules become the norm for some time, what is that going to mean for bars, nightclubs pubs, restaurants and so on?”
Coach companies are a crucial part of the Capital’s tourism industry, but Neil Bailey, operations manager at Edinburgh Coach Lines, said firms like his were “at the very edge of closure” because there was no specific support for them.
Edinburgh Coach Lines provide coaches to many UK and foreign tour companies for visits to Edinburgh and around Scotland, and to other parts of the UK, as well as taking many people to and from the Tattoo and running daily sightseeing excursions around the country.
Mr Bailey said: “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.”
Murray Fleming, of Central Taxis, said Covid-19 was devastating for the taxi trade too.
“They’re all self-employed guys and they’re having to wait till June for any payments [from the Government support fund]. When the Festival is on every night is like a Friday or Saturday night, which is a real boost. But that is wiped out.
“In Edinburgh this could not have come at a worse time given the capital investment in new vehicles to meet the low emission zone. Many guys for the first time in many years have hefty finance payments to make.”
And he said even once the lockdown ended he did not expect an overnight recovery.
“I have genuine fears the taxi trade will struggle to get back to where it was.”
Donald Emslie, chair of the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group, said it would take several years to get tourist numbers back to previous levels, but pointed to the city’s lasting appeal.
“Right now consumers are only interested in their health, how they look after their kids at home, how they look after their parents, how they can volunteer to help – they are not interested in booking holidays. But that will change and we need to be ready to remind them what Edinburgh has to offer – and that hasn’t changed, the attractions people come to Edinburgh for will still be there.”
Hotels face ‘precarious position’ and likely large-scale job losses
MANY hotels will be in a precarious position and large-scale jobs losses are likely, according to Russell Imrie of the Edinburgh Hotels Association.
“The crisis is nothing short of devastating on the hotel industry,” he said. “The Festival had been the light at the end of this very dark tunnel for many hotels in Edinburgh and even that is not going to happen, so it’s a very challenging and a very tough year.
“The timing of this could not have been worse. Hotels rely on a good Easter, good spring and a good summer to give them the cushion of finances they need to see them through the low season. There will be many hotels in the city in a very precarious position.
“The prospect of large scale job losses is being held at bay at the moment because of the furlough scheme. That has only been extended to the end of June.
“Unless the economy opens up in a meaningful way from early June and if the furlough scheme is not extended, there will be large scale job losses in the industry, there’s no doubt about that.”
And he forecast that when the lockdown ended, continued social distancing requirements would mean hotels had to open under changed business model, requiring fewer staff. “Weddings and conferences will be very limited, we will probably have to have social spacing in the restaurants. Will bars be open?”
He said the industry had never faced such challenging times. But he suggested the crisis may force critics to think again about their attitudes.
“Tourism is perhaps the biggest industry in the city and there has been lots of comment about over-tourism but the lack of tourism this year may cause people to reconsider their opinion of the importance of tourism to the city, the wealth of the city and more importantly employment in the city.”
Restaurants face ‘hard times’ after crisis
THE coronavirus crisis is obliterating the city’s hospitality sector, says Paul Brennan, co-owner of Dine restaurant above the Traverse Theatre.
“We’re entering our sixth week of closure, we’re not eligible for any grants and we have zero support,” he said.
Dine has 34 employees, most of whom are now on furlough, but does not qualify for a small business grant because the rateable value is too high.
Mr Brennan said city-centre restaurants were at a disadvantage since their rateable values were going to be higher.
But he said the sector faced a difficult future when the crisis was over.
Social distancing rules would mean restaurants reducing their covers and therefore their staff, he said.
“Hospitality is the fourth largest employer in Edinburgh – 35,000 people. How many of them are going to lose their jobs?
“For small independent restaurants it’s going to be really hard.”
He said he knew of five restaurants which were unlikely to reopen when the lockdown is lifted.
“The council should put a two-year hold on issuing licences for new restaurants. We’re saturated. There are 1,850 restaurants in the city – more per head than anywhere outside London.
“And they should stop the food stalls at the Christmas market so the tourists who do come eat in the restaurants that are still trading.”
THE SCOTSMAN – 23 April 2020
Free Travel on our Service 13 for NHS Staff
From today, 14 April, we are delighted to offer all NHS staff, free travel on our Service 13 buses as a thank you for the amazing work they are doing.
To travel, simply show your driver your NHS Travel Card.
Our Service 13 runs from Lochend to The Quarry at Craigletih, just a short walk from the Western General Hospital.
Service 13 - Temporary Timetable Variation
From Monday 23 March 2020 Service 13 will be operating to a Saturday timetable
Until further notice, the following weekday journeys will not operate:
06:35 Findlay Gardens to Blackhall
06:35 Blackhall to Findlay Gardens
07:59 Blackhall to Findlay Gardens
The service will continue to run hourly in each direction during the daytime and the last bus will be unchanged.
We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause, but unfortunately this has been necessary due to the COVID-19 outbreak resulting in far fewer passengers travelling.
We will return to normal timetable as soon as possible.
POSTPONED - Service 13 Diversion from 30 March - Leith Walk
PLEASE BE AWARE THIS DIVERSION HAS BEEN POSTPONED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE
The main construction works to extend Edinburgh Trams to Newhaven will start on 28 March 2020 from London Road to Crown Place with a completion date of Summer 2021.
For the duration of these works, Leith Walk will be reduced to one city bound lane.
These works will mean our Service 13 will be diverted running towards Lochend from Monday 30 March as per the map below.
Bus stops on Leith Walk and Dalmeny Street will be closed in this direction but we will serve all stops on London Road and Easter Road during the diversion to help our customers.