Hear from our Development Manager for Orkney, Cheryl Chapman, on how we’re responding to the current COVID-19 situation, and the opportunities it presents for Orkney businesses to work together.
"Orkney’s tourism industry has been decimated as local businesses count the cost of the crisis. In our recent COVID-19 impact survey, which measured up until 30 March, it suggested that over £1 million of revenue has already been lost for local businesses.
"Unfortunately, it’s entirely possible that some businesses will be unable to recover from the greatest public health crisis for a generation. However, many will recover with the combined help of Government support, and also the wealth of sound business advice which is on offer through my colleagues. There’s also valuable business support available through agencies such as Orkney Islands Council, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
"The analogy I’m hearing regularly at the moment is, ‘it’s like three consecutive winters’. There’s no doubt that this has happened at the worst time possible, when businesses cash flows are low. Most businesses aren’t in the black until June, which is when they make their money to get them through the following winter.
"This loss of a season creates an on-going impact and therefore requires support to be in place long after the worst of the pandemic is over. The first payments from the Scottish Government, designed to assist small businesses and those in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, were made in mid-April, and totalled to more than £1 million in support for Orcadian businesses. We’re remaining hopeful that tourism will bounce back with the necessary support, but we don’t know how or if it will be the same as it was before.
"We’re working closely with other agencies to deliver a recovery plan as part of the Scottish Tourism Emergency Response Group (STERG) which will enable tourism industry bodies across Scotland to respond in a coordinated manner to the problems which result from a COVID-19 pandemic. These weekly meetings have been taking place since March, and have focused on providing clarity on furloughing staff, support for the self-employed, and access for businesses to support grants.
"Orkney will be able to take advantage of any opportunities, however small, once the worst of these bleak times are behind us. Although we’re very much in a survival and stabilising stage, looking ahead to the recovery, there may be new opportunities, such as encouraging visitors to stay longer with us and to travel slower.
"The first opportunity for tourism will be holidaying at home and then encouraging the rest of the UK to come to Scotland for special experiences such as island breaks. We expect the foreign travel market may take longer to come back.
"We’re maintaining our connection with our friends here, and across the globe, with our latest film, Absence makes the heart grow fonder, which was released on 3 April. This film offers a heart-warming message encouraging people to, for the moment, stay at home but to consider returning to Scotland to create special memories once we’re able to welcome them again. Our film has received lots of engagement, reaching 1.6 million people across our channels in the first four days.
"To understand visitor behaviour going forward, our Insights team has conducted some market research as it's important to monitor this rapidly changing situation at both a national and local level. The results of our first two COVID-19 impact surveys are now published, so be sure to take a look.
"Early estimates suggest that around £164 million has been lost so far for the Scottish tourism sector. Many revenue streams have been halted, bookings and the lucrative and essential summer season quickly decimated.
"Businesses in Orkney, as-well as nationally, face a battle to survive like no other. In island communities such as ours in Orkney, the impact of coronavirus and the challenge to bounce back is greater, even more so for those businesses who rely on a fruitful tourist season to tide them over the quieter winter months.
"For businesses, a strong digital presence will be a crucial factor as part of the recovery activity. For a few years, Orkney has been in the fortunate position of having a lot of visitors, without investing in their online presence.
"There are still many Orkney businesses who don't have an online presence or online bookability, and around 37% of Orkney accommodation businesses listed on our consumer site, VisitScotland.com, work with integrated booking engines. This low figure highlights an opportunity to up-skill and adapt, as we look ahead and look toward resilience, for what’s coming ahead.
"Your Industry Relationship Manager for Orkney, Lee Inkster, is on hand to assist with any questions or queries you have on building a strong online presence. There's also a range of helpful materials available on our new Digital Skills section on VisitScotland.org.
"In the meantime, please keep checking VisitScotland.org for the latest industry news, market intelligence reports and coronavirus advice and do get in touch if there’s anything else we can be doing to help
"I look forward to the day it's safe once again to get out and about, and meet with you all face to face."