Vaccine passports have been “devastating” for business where they have been introduced, a trade body has told MSPs, saying the scheme has led to declines in trade of more than 20%.
However, an MSP suggested the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) was overstating the case and “crying wolf” at a Holyrood committee on Thursday.
The Scottish Government is considering expanding the scheme to cinemas and other hospitality venues, with a final decision due on Tuesday.
Organisations representing hospitality businesses gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Covid-19 Recovery Committee on Thursday morning.
Gavin Stevenson, of the SLTA, told the committee: “The five trade bodies in Scotland surveyed members last week to ascertain what the economic impact of the current version of vaccine passports had been.
“And it was little short of devastating for a substantial proportion of businesses.”
The survey of more than 200 business owners and operators found 83% said trade was down by more than 10% from pre-pandemic levels.
Of those enforcing the vaccine passport policy, 95% said they had been negatively impacted.
Some 87% said trade had decreased by more than 20%.
Stevenson continued: “There’s a direct correlation there between the implementation of vaccine passports and a substantial and unsustainable decrease in trade.
“So any proposed extension of the scheme is deeply unwelcome from the sector.”
Leon Thompson, Scottish executive director of UK Hospitality, said news of a possible expansion of the scheme had caused “widespread alarm across hospitality”.
Committee member John Mason addressed Mr Stevenson, saying: “Do you not think you’ve been slightly overstating your case – and a certain amount of crying wolf?
“And people are not taking you seriously because you use such strong language like ‘devastating’ and so on?”
Mason said he had been to pubs and restaurants which were “absolutely full”.
Stevenson responded, saying these were areas of hospitality not currently covered by the vaccine passport scheme.
He said industry organisations in other countries which had implemented vaccine passports, such as the National Federation of French Cinemas, had also reported a decline in trade.
Stevenson said: “This has been the experience not just in Scotland, but elsewhere.
“That vaccine passports, when you put barriers between customers and businesses, that it results inevitably in a substantial loss of trade.”
The scheme currently applies to nightclubs, adult entertainment venues and certain large events.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney gave evidence to the committee later on Thursday morning.
Swinney said the issue was being considered as cases “are at a very high level” after increasing by 10% in the last seven days.
While he stressed no decisions had been made, he said ministers were looking at potentially extending vaccine passports to indoor cinemas, theatres and “some hospitality settings”.
Swinney said exemptions would remain – including for under-18s and those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons – as he was clear there was no intention to introduce vaccine passports for children.
But he told the committee that the certification scheme “continues to play a role in helping us increase vaccine uptake”.
Swinney added it allowed “higher risk services to continue to operate as an alternative to more restrictive measures such as capacity limits, early closing times or closure”.