The coronavirus pandemic could cost thousands of jobs in Scottish tourism, with industry leaders warning recovery will take years.
Some businesses have already shut down or indicated their intention do so, while others are concerned the end of the furlough scheme will see mass redundancies.
While those in the sector are confident of an eventual recovery, Visit Scotland chairman John Thurso has described the impact as “brutal”.
He said: “There are large chunks of the industry which closed down in March and have not reopened.
“There are a huge number of people whose jobs are under threat and the recovery is always subject to second waves or whatever else may come.”
Working in hospitality himself before going into politics, he has taken a close interest in the impact of Covid-19 on a fragile Highland economy.
He added: “I think the government has, broadly, put in a lot of support that might not have been expected and I hope that support will continue through the winter. But I fear there are a number of businesses that simply may not make it.”
Scottish tourism is currently worth £11bn to the annual economy. It employs 218,000 people – 8% of the workforce.
The hospitality industry has been subjected to restrictions as governments try to curtail the spread of the virus.
However, the measures have had their own impact on business and footfall.
‘I think it’s an easy target for folk to have a go at the hospitality industry. We have made so many sacrifices to get through this.’Rob Hicks at The Arch Inn in Ullapool
Andrew Mackay, of the Caithness Connection hotel group, said: “We’ve got three hotels so we’re quite fortunate. We would close one, probably, and mothball it – and cut our cloth accordingly so that we can survive.
“We’re totally local. We only have local staff and we’d want to minimise the disruption to our team as well, as much as possible.”
Rob Hicks at The Arch Inn, Ullapool, said: “It’s grossly unfair the hospitality industry is being targeted the way it is because I think that, on the whole, it’s been a model industry in dealing with Covid.
“And I think it’s an easy target for folk to have a go at the hospitality industry. We have made so many sacrifices to get through this.”
Guest limits affecting holiday lets have ultimately cost the jobs of a raft of self-employed housekeepers who got no state aid.
Di Rusling, of letting agency Ullapool Holiday Homes, said: “The community came together, lots of folk, to help other people, with mental health, with the parish hub, in support with food packages and all kinds of other things.
“It’s a very strong community and if there was a further lockdown I know the community would pull together again.”
Mr Thurso concedes it could be years before normality is restored but is optimistic that “greener” forms of tourism will help.
He said: “We are extraordinarily well placed in the recovery to go for a green recovery, to have low carbon means of transport, to have low carbon emission through the use of renewable energy.
“All of these things are actually playing to our strengths. So I have not the slightest doubt that in the long term – over two or three years – our industry will be a strong proposition for people to come and visit.”