Orkney Island Council's Leader, James Stockan, is to meet with Rural Economy and Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing tomorrow (Wednesday 8 July) to raise concerns over some of the challenges Orkney is facing as a national move is made to 'reopen tourism' from 15 July.
Fergus Ewing told fellow Ministers at Holyrood on June 10 that the tourism and leisure sector should prepare to open from 15 July.
With a number of restrictions lifted since then, it is expected that Orkney could receive more visitors from that date – and tourism businesses have been preparing for this.
However, social distancing remains in place on public transport - which Councillor Stockan believes puts Orkney at a disadvantage as capacity is vastly reduced on both internal and external ferry services – meaning less people can actually travel to Orkney.
Councillor Stockan said: "There is a misconception from Government that they can announce that 'tourism can reopen on the 15th' and that local areas can immediately react and accommodate that within existing restrictions. As an island group we face a significantly amplified challenge due to the restrictions that have been imposed on our ferry transport networks - and it isn't as simple as the Government would have us believe. I'm meeting with the Minister to once again highlight these challenges and ensure that our island setting doesn't leave us in a disadvantaged position."
The meeting comes as Destination Orkney - Orkney's tourism member organisation - released details of a survey which showed that almost 70-per-cent of Orkney tourism businesses are planning to reopen this summer, with the local sector committed to adopting recommended measures for ensuring visitor, staff and community safety.
Councillor Stockan said: "Tourism is an absolutely vital industry in Orkney. The latest results from the Destination Orkney survey show loud and clear, that when the time is right, our hard-working local businesses are ready to welcome visitors. However this could all come to nothing unless the Government relaxes social distancing rules on our ferries - both internal and external. If we have to continue to operate within current rules, there is in fact the real risk of tourism actually disadvantaging some of our island groups as locals and tourists 'compete' for spaces on the ferry - which is something we absolutely need to avoid.
"I'll be putting it to the Minister that with face masks now mandatory - and the myriad of other measures that have been put in place by our transport providers - some relaxation of social distancing needs to happen, or our tourism industry cannot start the process of getting back on its feet again - and if that is the position that we are placed in, then the Scottish Government will need to provide further financial support to our islands to see us through."
Destination Orkney represents over 500 businesses, individuals, and other bodies with an interest in the successful and sustainable development, management and marketing of Orkney as a visitor destination.