In its garish kind of way, I always thought the airport arrivals lounge is a pretty good indication of what the country you’ve just landed in considers important. Or at least what it’s trying to sell you.
Put the Beach Boys on mute, and look beyond the Love, Actually Richard Curtis scenes of dewy eyed loved ones reuniting – what else do you see on the walls? In Stockholm; wall-to-wall Volvo. Munich; Audi. Or in London, the latest big bank promising a nifty ‘think global, act local’ approach to your money.
In Glasgow or Edinburgh, odds are that if it isn’t whisky, those adverts depict VisitScotland-branded capercaillie up close and personal, or a young family cavorting in a Highland glen. But far from having lack of national products to show off, that tells me that tourism itself is our product. It’s what we consider important and why any good Scot will give you umpteen reasons for why Scotland is the best country in the world – is the best place to visit in the world – despite probably telling you this whilst on holiday somewhere else from the place itself.
Tourism’s importance was hammered home yesterday as the Scottish Government announced that the sector could resume business from July 15; dependent on the next phase of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions being lifted. And speaking in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, tourism secretary Fergus Ewing also announced the creation of a Scottish Recovery Tourism Taskforce that will explore possible VAT exemption for tourist businesses in addition to £2.3 billion in relief measures already announced.
It remains to be seen whether the two metre physical distancing rule will be reduced before the proposed opening date. This will be critical for many venues across the country. However, it is perhaps significant that the first minister said the government “will continue to look” at the issue. And just this morning, the Daily Telegraph reports that the rule will be relaxed in England for the return of schools in September.
In Scotland, yesterday’s news will matter more than elsewhere. Tourist spend accounts for around five per cent of Scotland’s GDP with employment in the sector around seven per cent of the total – both higher than the OECD average. Earlier this week, sweeping job cuts at Crieff Hydro signal the worst may yet be to come for tourism.
And for those of us who live here, the success of Scotland’s tourism industry is about more than numbers. It’s about who we are and what we share in the world. It’s the “love affair” we’ve offered to pals in Europe. It’s any former first minister’s questionable sartorial decisions during Tartan Week to entice over the Americans. And its every better informed young person schooling me on Mary Queen of Scots, Culloden or Cromwell.
Facemask or no, those reasons are good enough for me to celebrate my next outing on home shores come July 15.