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The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced yesterday (20th April) that the planned relaxation of current restrictions planned from 26 April will go ahead and Scotland will move to Level 3 on Monday. The First Minister also outlined that Scotland will move to Level 2 on 17 May if cases continue to fall, and the plan is for the country to then enter Level 1 on 7 June.

The statement by MS Sturgeon confirmed that all indoor attractions are allowed to re-open from Monday, as are all public buildings such as galleries, museums and libraries and all shops. Hospitality venues can open until 8pm indoors (without alcohol) and 10pm outdoors where, subject to local licensing alcohol can be consumed. Numbers permitted at weddings, wakes and funerals increase from 20 to 50 people.

The other important development for our sector is that restrictions on travel are also being eased from 26 April to allow travel across Scotland and between Scotland, England and Wales. Restrictions on travel to and from Northern Ireland are also being lifted.

Ms Sturgeon also advised that rapid, lateral flow COVID-19 tests are urged for anyone planning to travel to the islands. International travel remains restrictions for non-essential travel remain in place until 17 May at least.

Tourist accommodation can re-open from Monday, however in self-catering the rules on indoor meetings (up to 6 people from a maximum of two households).

Concluding her statement, the First Minister said: “The changes that will come into force on Monday, building on the changes we have had in the last couple of weeks, have been really hard earned and long awaited.  So it is really important that as we enjoy these new restored freedoms we continue to be really careful and take all of the required precautions.

The full statement by the First Minister’s full statement can be read here.

ASVA has been consulting with the Scottish Government on a number of key issues regarding the reopening of the sector. One of these issues is whether samples of alcoholic beverages will be permitted within distillery/brewery experiences when the sector can re-open on 26th April. We are very pleased to confirm that, following lobbying by ASVA, supported by the Scotch Whisky Experience and Diageo, the Scottish Government has confirmed that samples of alcohol can be served as part of a tour experience in a drinks based attraction from 26th April. The guidance from the Scottish Government is that the samples must be served as a distinctive part of the tour experience and incorporated into the ticket price. It should not be possible for visitors to buy any additional alcoholic beverages to be consumed during the experience on top of the samples provided as part of the tour.  Whilst being served, all physical distancing and hygiene protocols must be followed.

On Tuesday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced further easing of the current restrictions on travel throughout the country.  

From tomorrow, Friday 16 April, travel within Scotland for outdoor socialising, recreation and exercise will be allowed.  The relaxation of restrictions means that any outdoor attractions that are already open will be able to welcome visitors from across Scotland, with all relevant mitigations in place. 

Data permitting, the whole of Scotland, including all of our island communities, will be in Level 3 from Monday 26 April.  This means that non-essential travel between the mainland and islands, as well as between Scotland, England and Wales will be permitted, re-opening a much larger market for our sector. 

Indoor attractions now have a much firmer assertion that they can open again on, or from, 26 April.  It has also been confirmed that tourist accommodation can open from this date.

Another important change to the rules which comes into effect tomorrow is that outdoor meetings in groups of up to six adults from up to six households will be allowed, with under-12s not counting towards this limit. 

In her announcement, the First Minister advised that the easing of restrictions has been brought forward as a result of significant progress in reducing the number of new COVID cases in Scotland, partly due to the success of the vaccination programme, but also because so many people have stuck so well to the rules.  Daily cases are at the lowest level since September and have declined more than 85% since early January.  Ms Sturgeon urged caution, as restrictions are relaxed, to protect against resurgence of COVID-19, advising that people should take care to plan ahead with journeys and follow the FACTS advice when out and about.

Whilst ASVA welcomed news of the easing of restrictions and the impact this will have on our sector, we remain very concerned about the effect of 2 metre physical distancing at attractions.  A requirement of 2m distancing will make it impossible for many attractions to open viably on 26 April so we are continuing to lobby the Scottish Government on this key issue. Further details on our efforts to get distancing restrictions reduced can be found below, in the article ‘Scottish Tourism Emergency Response Group discusses distancing’.  

To read the First Minister’s full statement on the easing of restrictions, click here.

The updated Strategic Framework Protection Level tables showing the route map for future easing of restrictions can be viewed at this link.

A number of attractions have raised questions about the COVID-19 rules for children’s activities in our sector.  ASVA has taken up the matter directly with Scottish Government officials who have now confirmed to us that children’s activities will be allowed to commence indoors from 26 April, as Scotland moves into Level 3.   

The Government’s official advice publication, ‘Guidance for the safe running of organised children and young people’ has been updated.  Including information on managing physical distancing and details of maximum group sizes, the document is available to access here.

ASVA and our colleagues at The British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions (BALPPA) have worked together to put together some advice for Scottish visitor attractions, as much of the sector looks towards re-opening on 26th April. We acknowledge that we are in an ever-changing environment just now, but we hope that members will find the new re-launch advice document useful. 

The document contains advice and guidelines on topic such as welfare of staff, visitor communications, staff communications, hygiene requirements and managing physical distancing.

You can view the updated document here.

Our colleagues at the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) have provided ASVA with the latest tranche of consumer research exploring how the public is feeling about visiting attractions and what attractions can do to build confidence and trust in visiting again amongst the public. The latest research, commissioned by ALVA and undertaken by Decision House saw fieldwork taking place between 3rd and 9th March, with a report produced specifically focussing on Scottish consumers.
 
Key highlights from the report include:

  • Compared with the UK as a whole, Scotland’s residents are now more confident about returning to outdoor attractions in less crowded environments but less confident about indoor attractions and those where potential for crowds is higher.
  • Overall, visit confidence among Scotland’s residents is now slightly above that of the UK as a whole and confidence has seen a sharp upturn in the past month.
  • Whilst excitement around returning to attractions is high amongst Scottish residents, there is also more of an enduring desire to see safety measures remain in place than the rest of the UK.
  • Compared with the UK overall, Scotland’s residents retain much more anxiety around using the indoor elements of attractions when they re-open, although anxiety is now considerably lower than it was among Scotland’s residents at the end of summer 2020.
  • Safety measures, such as limiting visiting numbers, staff making sure visitors follow distancing measures and staff visibly cleaning surfaces, remain even more comforting to Scotland’s residents than they are to residents of the UK as a whole.

The report concludes that Scotland’s more cautious, health-led approach to the pandemic could well lead to a quicker recovery in demand for visiting attractions than in the rest of the UK. However, this health-led approach has also resulted in a public which requires more reassurance in the form of safety measures. As a result, Scotland’s attractions may need to retain a stronger presence of safety measures in order to support this confidence.

To view the complete report, please click here

With the Scottish Government providing a timetable for the re-opening of the Scottish economy, ASVA and our partners at the Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism Business Development are asking all Scottish attractions to complete a quick survey to help us ascertain when the industry will begin re-opening.

The survey should only take approximately 5 minutes to complete.

We will be using the data collected in the survey to help inform the attractions sector and key stakeholders, including the Scottish Government and VisitScotland, about the stages of re-opening within the industry. The survey results will also be used to help inform and shape ASVA’s ongoing lobbying efforts with the Scottish and UK Governments. 

It is through data collected from these surveys that we can best inform and argue on behalf of the industry. It is therefore essential that we receive as many responses as possible to help us ensure that the sector’s needs are being represented.

To complete the survey, please click here.

Last week the Scottish Government announced the relaxation of restrictions, with the “stay at home” order lifted on Friday 2nd April and replaced with “stay local”, whereby everyone is asked to remain within their local authority boundaries except for essential journeys.

Further to this, the Scottish Government has published a timetable setting out how and when the Scottish Government plan to lift the current coronavirus restrictions over the coming weeks and months. The timetable is updated on a regular basis and contains all the pertinent indicate and confirmed dates for the re-opening of the country.

As it stands, and as confirmed by the Frist Minister at her latest briefing, the 26th of April remains the next significant date for more reopening, with the reopening of the majority of visitor attractions (with some exceptions – e.g. soft play, funfair rides) permitted from this date.

The timetable can be viewed at this link.

The Scottish Government recently extended the Non-Domestic Rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses for 12 months to help relieve pressure caused by the pandemic. The legislation was enacted on 18 March 2021 and will come into effect from 1 April 2021.

The 100% relief was initially awarded automatically by billing authorities in the 2020/21 financial year. This year, however, the Scottish Government now require an application to be completed to award this relief.

It is important that you complete the relief application as soon as possible to allow for it to be reflected in your annual bill. Online applications are already available via some local authority websites and all should be live by early April 2021.

For more information, please click here.

Today (24th March), ASVA received confirmation from the Scottish Government that 2 metre physical distancing restrictions will be in place for our sector when re-opening commences on 26th April, for at least the short term.
 
ASVA has been pushing for changes to the restrictions to allow our sector to trade at a more economically viable 1 metre (as per WHO social distancing recommendations), but unfortunately, the Scottish Government do not believe that it would be appropriate to reduce physical distancing restrictions yet. They have, however, confirmed that 1 metre physical distancing will be possible within hospitality settings, e.g. cafes, bars and restaurants, so attractions with hospitality elements will be able operate with 1 metre distancing in these areas should they so wish.
 
ASVA is very disappointed that 2 metre distancing is to be maintained for attractions. We have made it clear to the Scottish Government that this restriction will have considerable negative economic impacts for 85% of the sector and have called for:

  • Clarity on when physical distancing restrictions will be loosened for attractions.  We particularly recognise that there are a number of members who will not be able to re-open their doors at all while 2m is maintained, so we urgently need clarity on when we are likely to see an easing of distancing restrictions.
  • Further, targeted financial support for those businesses within the sector who cannot trade at an economically viable level with 2 metre restrictions in place.

ASVA has put forward what we feel are very sensible proposals to the Scottish Government for the gradual reduction of physical distancing measures within our sector, including the adoption of additional mitigating measures, to ensure that any safety concerns are addressed. It is therefore disappointing that we do not have more positive news to support to the sector at this stage. We, however, remain hopeful that our case will be heard and we will see restrictions lifted sooner rather than later. We can assure members that we will continue to engage with Scottish Government officials on this matter during the purdah period when we are unable to engage with ministers.

It has also been confirmed by the Scottish Government that Test & Protect measures, including the collection of customer details for those visitors using hospitality facilities will remain in place, as per last year. The Scottish Government has highlighted that operators can use the Test & Protect app to help them manage this requirement.

Our friends at the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) have shared with ASVA their latest wave of public sentiment research they commissioned with Steve Mills of Decision House. This is the 7th wave of results and follows similar sentiment tracker research conducted last Spring and Summer to measure the changing public mood about the nature of the UK epidemic, and to gauge the effect on people’s optimism of the successful roll-out of the vaccine programme.
 
The headlines from this latest wave of research are:

  • Since end January there has been a notable positive shift in confidence around visiting attractions when they re-open.
  • The increase in confidence over the past month has been driven by those who have been lower on confidence throughout the pandemic – particularly older people (aged 40+)
  • The growth in confidence has also been driven by those living in the south of England and Scotland, with the Midlands and North of England yet to see the same increases.
  • The positive and safe visit experiences at attractions in 2020 have helped to lay the foundations for visitor confidence in 2021, now that anxiety appears to be easing.
  • This easing of anxiety and growth in confidence is being driven primarily by less concern around new variants and high infection rates, plus perceived success around the vaccine rollout.
  • The recent positive impact of the vaccination programme on public confidence has been particularly noteworthy – having the first vaccine dose now increases the proportion saying they will visit any attraction from 47% to 57% (+10%). This compares with an uplift of just 44% to 48% (+4%) at end January
  • The impact of the vaccine is even more effective in encouraging the fearful to at least consider a visit – moving people from ‘unlikely to visit for a long time’ to ‘wait and see what happens for a short while’
  • Since the end of January there has been a significant drop in the proportion of the market who will feel more anxious than usual about using indoor attraction facilities after re-opening. Anxiety is now lower than 2020.
  • Most safety measures will still be highly comforting to visitors, although with visit confidence now growing, their impact on the visit decision is perhaps diminishing a little. There is now a small minority (around 7%) who will not visit until a ‘normal’ experience can be delivered.  

You can view the complete report at this link.

Last month, ASVA and the Moffat Centre asked all Scottish attractions to complete a survey to help us ascertain the industry’s preparedness for re-opening, the factors that need to be considered which will influence decision making about re-opening, the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 on your business and further support measures required.
 
In total, more than 200 attractions responded to the request, providing us with a comprehensive overview from the sector. The results of the survey have now been collated by the Moffat Centre and can be viewed in this report.
 
Please note, the key data from the survey was shared with the Scottish Government in advance, to afford them opportunity to review prior to the First Minister’s announcement on Tuesday.
 
Key highlights include:

  • Ongoing travel restrictions would greatly inhibit the sector from being able to viably reopen. For example, if the country moved into Level 3 conditions which limited travel to local authority areas only, 30% of attractions would remain closed, with a further 49.5% only opening on a restricted basis (e.g. reduced hours/weekends only).
  • The continuation of 2 metre physical distancing will have economic consequences for the majority of the attractions sector. Only 15% of attractions stated that reopening at 2 metre distancing would have no impact on their ability to operate at an economically sustainable level. It is therefore important to note that, for as long as physical distancing restrictions are in place, it is highly likely that our sector is going to need financial assistance to survive. 
  • The lack of international visitors in 2021 is going to have a considerable economic impact on our sector. Almost 20% of attractions are anticipating a drop in turnover of more than 50% (when compared to 2019). Again this highlights the vulnerable position that many our sector is likely to be in this year and the need for further financial support.
  • Just under 60% of attraction operators believe that an introduction of a government-led incentivisation scheme similar to ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ designed specifically to stimulate the domestic audience to visit attractions would be beneficial for the industry.  
  • Just over 50% of attractions believe their business is secure in the short term (next 1-3 months). However, this number drops to just over a third when looking at the long-term security of their business (beyond 12 months).
  • In terms of key measures to aid economic sustainability at attractions, respondents stated that the Scottish/UK Government’s top three priorities should be providing new/additional grant support to the industry, reducing 2m physical distancing restrictions and supporting increased national marketing activity/spend aimed at the domestic audience.