On 15 July 2020, the Scottish tourism industry was able to start reopening its doors again to welcome back domestic visitors.
The industry has faced its biggest ever crisis and as it emerges from lockdown it still faces some very big challenges within the setting of a ‘new normal’ – adhering to new hygiene and physical distancing measures. This has by no means been an easy task and businesses have rallied to these challenges to ensure they can capitalise on what remained of the summer season, and the demand from people looking to escape their houses to rediscover their local areas as well as staycation in Scotland.
On this page, we share just a snapshot of the great work, replicated by others across the country, that has been done by businesses and attractions to welcome back visitors over the last few months following the restart of Scottish tourism:
Meldrum House Country Hotel and Golf Course
Based in Oldmeldrum and opened on 15 July. Thanks to its marketing campaign ‘Time to Shine’ and investment in new hygiene and safety measures, including perspex screens and a disinfectant fogging machine, the hotel had 150 covers for dinner on the Saturday of its opening weekend. The hotel has also invested in three luxury outdoor private domes that can be hired for lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. The domes give a 360-degree view to the Highland cows, golf course, estate and sky and have seen an unprecedented demand since reopening.
Dalriada Luxury Lodges
These five-star self-catering lodges in Stonehaven reopened on 3 July. It has reported an increase in bookings and interest in future stays to a higher level than before the crisis. As well as a suite of measures to ensure that the lodges were COVID-19 secure, including contactless check-in and enhanced cleaning protocols, Dalriada created a campaign to target the staycation market. It commissioned a series of images based on vintage railway posters and local scenes to show the expansive coastal environment, using straplines including ‘The Coast Is Clear’, ‘Shore Leave’ and ‘Golf Stream’ based on insights on preferences for holidays at the coast. A Facebook campaign launched when its reopening date was announced which generated more than 3,200 link clicks to the website. Comparing July 2020 with July 2019, new users to the website rose by 191% and page views rose by a similar figure. Prior to this post-lockdown campaign, the best single day on the website had been in June 2019 with 633 visitors. During the campaign, new visitors to the website on a single day peaked at 4,170 – an almost sevenfold increase.
The Torridon has seen a strong growth in bookings since reopening on 15 July due to its remote location and abundance of space, with very limited availability for the rest of 2020. Appearing as the feature hotel on BBC2’S ‘Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond The Lobby’ in July additionally boosted bookings significantly, with the hotel receiving over 400 bookings in the week after transmission. Newly implemented measures include a single point of check-in to reduce multiple guest touchpoints, five-day team rota to help with social distancing, and being closed on Mondays and Tuesdays for additional deep cleaning.
The luxury 62-bedroom experience seven miles outside Inverness is an exclusive use castle sleeping up to 55 people, with seven mini-manors and a fine-dining restaurant. Its prime business is as an exclusive use castle is for large events, particularly weddings and corporate gatherings. As its core business is events-based, the Estate has been hugely affected, and still operates in a state of uncertainty. Given government restrictions, it needed to adapt quickly as visitor interest in self-catering and staycations grew. The mini-manors were adapted to ensure they’re compliant with COVID-19 guidance, introducing remote check-in, no face-to-face contact with staff, and a light housekeeping service. The limitations on gatherings have prevented these being let to full capacity, so pricing on these properties has been lowered to attract smaller groups. Discounts of up to 50% have been introduced to make the accommodation affordable for the maximum number permitted. Despite the limitations, the business is doing its most so that visitors can enjoy a visit to Achnagairn Estate and enjoy the beautiful Highlands.
This Inverness bar went from being Scotland’s Best Music Bar (SLTN Awards) to being silent overnight. The team quickly launched a Facebook Live show ‘Live at Five’ to celebrate local music, food and drink. The show gained recognition in the Great British Pub Awards ‘Entertaining the Community’ as sponsored by Sky. The online programme has continued fortnightly from MacGregor’s Vaults, and the bar has also launched its own Spotify playlist which highlights the musicians who have played at MacGregor’s previously. Without the live music it’s famed for, MacGregor’s Bar had to adapt – adding two covered areas to the beer garden and introducing a new menu focusing on local produce.
Based in Fort William, they have been open since 15 July. Around 100 guests have been visiting the hotel every day for dinner, and almost double this amount at lunchtime – especially during the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme. The Outdoor Capital and the Lochaber Chamber of Commerce have played a huge part in helping local businesses with Track and Trace by producing a QR code which can be used throughout Lochaber and give guests the responsibility of checking in and out of businesses as they travel around. This can also be used by the business to record details for those that may not have access to a QR reader. The hotel’s rooms have been almost full every night, with lots of visitors from all over Scotland and England as well as a few international visitors. Advanced bookings are looking positive.
Also based in Fort William, Nevis range reopened on 15 July after putting in place rigorous new measures to ensure the safety of its visitors and staff. Face coverings and disposable gloves are required to be worn in its gondolas and a fogging system has been purchased to deep clean each gondola at the start of each day alongside enhanced cleaning routines and temperature check points. New signage and markings help direct people while visitors are encouraged to pre-book tickets online. All of these steps have helped to reassure visitors, who have flocked from all over the UK to experience the mountain. Record numbers of mountain bikers are using the tracks and families are enjoying the variety of walking trails taking in the splendid isolation of the Highlands.
Tales for Troubled Times
Orkney storyteller and author Tom Muir set up an online story-telling project which began from a passion to connect with people, both locally and across the world, to help individuals who were frightened and potentially alone during the coronavirus pandemic. Tom’s early recordings are Orkney stories, which were gathered over 20 years ago for his books ‘The Mermaid Bride’ and ‘Orkney Folk Tales’. When he'd worked through his repertoire, he delved into his huge collection of folklore books and began recording. Tom learnt a few new tales each day to record and re-tell in his own style each afternoon, so they were available on SoundCloud for listeners to enjoy that evening. Tales for Troubled Times has reached 49 countries across the world and been listened to over 6,500 times to date.
The Dundee company reopened in July with a reduced experience however, with a positive start back and steady increase in visitor numbers, this was expanded to a full reopening including the café. The five-star visitor attraction expected a predominantly local (Tayside) market however has been pleased to welcome visitors from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and England (at the end of the English school holidays) and a few international visitors too. Measures to help people feel safe and confident during their visit now include pre-visit information on the website, simple and clear signage throughout site, a new one-way system, hand sanitation stations and increased cleaning in place.
The Apex City Quay Hotel and Spa
The Dundee hotel reopened on 20 July, with visitors coming from Scotland and north east England. Its restaurant, the Quayside Bar & Grill, took part in the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme which encouraged people to dine mid-week. The hotel teamed up with the V&A Dundee to promote its new Mary Quant exhibition by offering a package for an overnight stay and visit to the exhibition which proved a great success. The hotel has produced ‘Apex Assured’ so that visitors and staff feel safe – it promises that each visitor's experience is memorable, which includes enhanced cleaning standards and ‘We’re Good to Go’ certification.
Murton Farm, Tea Room and Nature Reserve
They were apprehensive about reopening, having only initially been able to open its nature reserve and café for takeaway on a reduced menu. Now in full operation, with the farm attraction open to the public again, the response from visitors has been overwhelmingly positive. The attraction has over 120 acres of outdoor space for visitors to feel safe and at ease, whilst enjoying a much-needed day out. There has never been a more important time to reconnect with nature and the outdoors and Murton is a perfect location to do just that. Visitors to Murton have the choice of a range of events and trails to enjoy, from ‘Rucksack Rambles’ to ‘Meet the Animal’ sessions. All events must be booked in advance to ensure the safest experience for both visitors and staff.
Cultural charity ONFife has been tapping into its creative strengths to reconnect with customers and support local food and drink businesses. Using the historic Adam Smith Theatre in Kirkcaldy as a venue, ONFife has created ‘The Advantage’ – a twice-weekly outdoor café and bar that brings together food and drink from Fife producers in a safe environment. Producers include The Buffalo Farm and Kangus Coffee House (Kirkcaldy), Jannettas Gelateria, St Andrews Brewing Co and Eden Mill Gin (St Andrews), and afternoon tea from Hatters (Newburgh). ONFife hopes it’s going to lead to closer working in future as venues start to emerge from lockdown.
Forth Valley businesses
Find out about the positive approach to reopening from Forth Valley businesses – Ceangail, Braveheart Live 2020, Real Food Café, School of Witchcraft and Potions, Bo’ness & Kinneil Railway and The Japanese Garden.
Blair Castle & Estate
After months of lockdown, Blair Castle in Perthshire underwent extensive preparations to provide a safe environment for visitors as the castle reopened their doors again. Measures were put in place to ensure increased hygiene and social distancing in line with government guidelines as well as achieving the “We’re Good To Go” status. Blair Castle has decided to extend its opening season instead of closing in October. For the first time (and subject to government guidance) Blair Castle will remain open for guided tours until mid-December. The touring pitches within the caravan park will now also be available to book until the end of the year. A successful start for Blair Castle who have seen an increase in their accommodation bookings on the previous year.
The Bonnie Badger
This award-winning five star pub with rooms in Gullane – part of Kitchin Group – reopened in August. Extensive new measures are in place for the safety of all guests and staff. Staff all wear face coverings and adhere to mitigation guidelines, and all guests are guided to comply with temperature checks and respect physical distancing regulations. The business has ‘We’re Good to Go’ accreditation confirming that government and public health guidance is being adhered to.
Cobbles Tales Tours
This tour company based in Edinburgh has been providing an interesting offer for locals since reopening. A conservation-focused history tour on the Royal Mile proved particularly successful – it completely sold out with demand for a repeat event. The tour company collaborated with conservation charity The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). SPAB helped promote the tours and half the proceeds of tours with a conservation theme was donated to the charity. Tour numbers have been restricted, with guides wearing visors and customers encouraged to wear masks to keep everyone safe. To avoid any huddling together, old building drawings and maps usually referred to have been made available to view on customers’ phones. Safety measures are communicated on the business’ website and booking confirmation emails.
The Real Mary King’s Close
The Real Mary King’s Close reopened to the public on 17 July – one of the first visitor attractions in Edinburgh to do so. Measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 include reduced tour sizes, mandatory face coverings for staff and visitors, and regular cleaning throughout the site. Visitor feedback on these measures has been outstandingly positive. Most days have been selling out since reopening and demand exceeded supply in August, however this is also due to reduced capacity. 88% of visitors have been welcomed from the UK, with around 50% of those coming from Scotland, and international visitors have mainly come from Germany, Netherlands and France. More visitors are now booking online, with 90% of visitors booking online in August compared with 30% of bookings made online prior to COVID-19. The business is putting its successful reopening down to a growing appetite for domestic tourism as well as the exemplary measures put in place to help sanitise the site while maintaining a high-quality visitor experience.
Jupiter Artland in West Lothian was among the first attractions to reopen with the introduction of safety measures, including a restricted number of visitors per day and extended periods where access is exclusively for members and those living locally. The attraction provides free learning visits to schools, colleges and community groups throughout the year, offering experiences of contemporary art blended with outdoor learning in nature. Learning is at the heart of Jupiter Artland’s mission and maintaining quality learning experiences within government guidelines has been possible through close consultation with teachers and partner schools in West Lothian and Edinburgh. As the business’ digital platforms were not designed to facilitate an online booking system, additional staff were provided across phone lines and social media which has been essential. A new website has now been launched with a robust ticketing system so that all visitors can book tickets online in advance.
The Selkirk Arms Hotel
The Selkirk Arms Hotel in Kirkcudbright has reported a brisk trade after reopening in July. Despite limiting numbers for diners, hotel occupancy has boomed with many Scots choosing to explore the south of Scotland with visitors coming from places such as Ayrshire and the Lothians. Dining demand has been strong and an online table booking service has been introduced to manage numbers. Customers have reported feeling safe and pleased with the COVID-19 measures in place. Bookings into October are taking shape, however there are concerns over how the ‘new normal’ may affect Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations, and some out of the box thinking will be required. The rates relief and change to VAT rates until January have allowed all staff to be brought back to focus on delivering the best hospitality possible whilst allowing the business to build up a reasonable cash flow to get through the winter ahead.
Nithbank Country Estate
The award-winning five star country house B&B in Thornhill, is seeing positive signs of recovery with high occupancy levels since reopening in July. The business decided early on that despite managing the extra demands of COVID-19, it would not compromise on the luxury touches it provides, feeling that it’s more important now than ever that guest’s experiences surpass their expectations. Guests are now provided with more luxuries, more advice and more of the business’ time. Nithbank encourages visitors to take in more of the beautiful surroundings (like the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere), savour their experiences, spend locally and ‘stay a while' – all key to sustaining the business and local economy. Since lockdown, the business has reported a very positive start. Guests are staying longer, exploring recommended routes and enjoy local produce, with advance bookings coming through well into winter.
Montague Villa opened its doors to welcome guests on 15 July. Months earlier the business had spent a great deal of time planning and upgrading the property to provide a high standard of accommodation so that potential guests would see it to be quality, attractive accommodation at an affordable price, with a warm and friendly welcome. Following the coronavirus outbreak, a very high standard of cleanliness and hygiene has been put in place, which has undoubtedly been greatly appreciated by guests. So much so that the business has had a significant percentage of guests request repeat bookings since opening after lockdown. The business believes that its success is down to the warmth of welcome, along with doing everything to ensure a memorable experience for guests, that has quality and cleanliness at the heart of it.
Argyll Holidays is the family owned operator of eight holiday parks in Argyll & Bute, including Drimsynie Estate, Hunters Quay and Loch Lomond Holiday Park. It’s the largest private employer in the region and suffered an £8 million loss of revenue during the lockdown period. Since reopening in July, Argyll Holidays has implemented a ‘Safer Stays’ promise which includes enhanced cleaning procedures including new fogging machines and has introduced a mobile app to allow contactless check-in and content such as menus, online reservations and bookings for all facilities. Compared with 2019, Argyll Holidays has consistently had more than twice the daily volume of holiday enquiries and bookings. Occupancy is now at its highest booked rate ever, with very limited availability for the remainder of the year.
VisitArran has been working with Arran CVS, Arran Eco Savvy, Arran Health & Social Care Partnership, and others as part of the Arran Recovery Group. They have jointly produced materials to encourage people to maintain distancing, wash hands and use face coverings, and have branded this under #WeAreArran. Pop-up banners displaying this information are situated at the ferry terminals and Arran businesses are displaying the posters. The Group also worked alongside NHS Ayrshire & Arran to produce guidance shared with accommodation providers in the event of a visitor contracting COVID-19. In addition, a joint community engagement session was delivered online to 14 community groups. The Group is now looking at producing short films highlighting what everyone's role is currently and what is planned for the future.
Geraldo’s of Largs
This five star food and drink retailer diversified during lockdown to serve the community with a new collection service and local deliveries of ice cream, gift hampers, chocolates and premium drinks. Upscaling local and online deliveries during lockdown has led to a longer-term plan to build upon its gift hamper service and the online retail arm of the business. As a result, Geraldo’s has now acquired additional premises to service this growing activity in addition to reopening its popular shop with ‘We’re Good to Go’ accreditation. Having initially been quite nervous about opening the shop doors again, the business has adapted well to the 'new normal' with additional health and safety measures in place and social distancing signage both inside and outside the shop. With a new hamper store opening soon, Geraldo’s is excited to expand this unique gift offering to the local community, as well as to online customers across the UK.
The Adventure Centre for Education (ACE)
The Adventure Centre for Education (ACE) is a social enterprise in Girvan, with Adventure Carrick its commercial trading arm. Like most outdoor activity providers in Scotland, it waited for the go-ahead from Scottish Government before reopening on 15 July. ACE had to turn down enquiries that came in prior to this date which was hard financially. Since reopening the company has managed to provide lots of adventure for people from across the UK, as well as locally. Everyone is trying to make the most of getting outside and enjoying the best of Ayrshire. ACE is now in the process of preparing its indoor offerings ready for opening at the end of September.
Mackintosh at the Willow
Scotland’s most famous tearoom reopened on 16 September thanks to support and donations from customers, friends and family. A successful crowdfunding campaign has seen the business raise more than its target of £20,000, allowing the social enterprise to reopen its doors safely in accordance with government guidelines. The safety of the tearoom’s customers and staff is its top priority and changes have been made including increased cleaning levels, a one-way system, options to pre-order food and hand sanitiser throughout the venue.
Little’s Luxury Chauffeur Driven Tours
Little’s Luxury Chauffeur Driven Tours has traditionally targeted customers from international markets but has redesigned its product offering for the UK market. This includes the introduction of Luxury Scottish Experiences – two to four-night breaks focused on touring the undiscovered corners of Scotland with the same chauffeur seeing clients through from day one. Little’s has strict safety policies in place including ‘Ozone sanitisation’ of all vehicles prior to each journey.
The tour company in Glasgow initially reopened at the beginning of August with private tours of the City Centre, Street Art and West End which it continues to offer. The company has now also reopened its public City Centre and Street Art tours – with limited numbers on public tours and households kept physically-distanced. All tours stay outside for the duration and visitors can wear a mask if preferred. Levels of bookings were surprisingly good during August, with roughly a quarter of usual customer numbers. The company has reported a massive increase in UK customers and a huge reduction in US customers (its largest customer segment in previous years).