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Jump starting tourism

Dr Andrew Martin
Dr Andrew Martin, senior lecturer and Director of the Scottish Centre of Tourism at RGU, writes about how jump starting tourism in Scotland and Aberdeen will be a huge challenge for the in-dustry and how our graduates will have a stake in making that happen.

Tourism, in the widest sense encompassing hospitality and events, is like an old lager advertisement; it refreshes parts of the economy other industries cannot reach. Except just now it isn’t. And that’s a problem for all peripheral regions of the world that rely on tourism for their economic, social, cultural and environmental wellbeing. Tourism businesses are very much part of our regional or peripheral community; providing jobs and allowing us, the hosts, to serve and have conversations with visitors from both overseas and over the hill. This industry allows many of us to live in our communities and keep our families in the area. The benefits grow beyond the tourist spend, with the economic multiplier model there is a demonstrable ripple effect from this spend, sustaining others in the host community. Without the tourism businesses in our area, the architect, accountant, local craft shop, and artisan coffee shop (started by a graduate) would not have thrived.

Scottish Government Tourism Secretary Fergus Ewing announced a provisional date of 15 July for when tourism businesses may be able to resume operations, dependent on public health advice.

We need tourism and hospitality up and running now. Our communities need to come back to life.

Chairing a Zoom Hotel Association meeting yesterday I was impressed with progress being made towards the new normal; and by creative solutions like the Chester Hotel preparing igloos as pods for hospitality.

A lifetime ago, earlier this year pre COVID-19, I laughed with our students when we considered the idea of a hologram or robot checking in guests. To me that was not hospitality. Maybe in the latter half of 2020 it is. And that is the role of our University, curating meaningful and challenging discussions to ensure that future leaders will themselves be able to innovate. 

There is a will, and ability, on the part of the industry to work hard to get the welcome right, but, moving to our new normal is going to cost. Government and their agencies will be required to: fund targeted support, accept less back in the short term from non-domestic rates, forget any notion of a tourist tax, and bring in a reduction in VAT for the industry. But, get the economy moving and tax receipts will follow.

The biggest cost, of course, will be borne by operators. If, as an industry, we are going to be more expensive, and there is a financial imperative for this to be so, then we must be good. No, not just good, outstanding. Yes, a cost for all stakeholders, but an investment in our grandchildren’s communities too.   And our University has a stake in making it happen. A number of those grappling with difficult decisions in our tourism community are our graduates. Going forward where we need to be a world class destination our University has a role to play in education, and training. The argument for that Hotel School gets more compelling.

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