By now we've all become (mostly) accustomed to a changed global reality. I hesitate to use the over-used term 'new normal' because nothing about this is normal. Aside from anything else, there's nothing normal about the devastating affect COVID-19 has had on so many lives across the UK and the rest of the world.
The lockdown came into affect in mid March in the UK and all of us in tourism have been left in limbo wondering where the future for the industry lies. The harsher realities are already beginning to make themselves known, a number hotels and tour companies have already been wound up and a season's worth of work has apparently been consigned to the dustbin of 2020.
What hasn't helped is the mixed messages coming from Westminster with a seemingly chaotic Government unable to come up with a coherent or consistent message. The devolved Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are sticking with the 'stay at home, save lives' message which in itself would appear to reflect public opinion. None of us want to catch this virus and we sure as hell don't want to pass it on to our family and neighbours. However, those mixed messages have lent to fears of travellers descending on beauty spots and stretching patchy health care and emergency services to their absolute limit. And with travellers comes the virus, people are fallible and slip-ups are bound to happen.
But what of tourism? Despite a variety of grants and loans available to us, along with easy access to payment holidays on mortgages, car payments and credit cards, the season of 2020 is quite clearly shot to hell. The Pandemic has put an end to international and domestic tourism and we are most definitely shut. But as I've already mentioned, there's a clear desire to 'escape to the country' and a quick browse online will find any number of posts and articles on tripadvisor and in the press salivating about returning to rural areas of Scotland.I would dearly love to welcome everyone back, partly because the financial hit we're taking across the industry is utterly savage. Jobs have been lost, income for the season that we were depending on to pay mortgages and employee wages is gone with no sign of any significant earnings now until 2021. The recovery will be long and hard and I suspect the industry will look very different once the Pandemic is over
So the financial and personal toll will be significant, but importantly we still have a responsibility to our neigbours, colleagues and families, we can recover from the loss of income - we can't recover from being dead.
Thankfully, it's not all doom and gloom and whilst it has been hard for everyone there are little glimmers of light here and there that give me hope for the future. The additional funding and grant support has been a lifesaver and the industry is one that is very tight-knit. People are talking to each other and offering support where they can. As you saw in a previous post, Glen Rowan cafe have donated coffee to the NHS and we've seen tour buses being used as places for NHS staff to rest up in.
VisitScotland recently put together a video telling our customers that we miss them and we will be here once all this is done. 'Let this distancing bring us closer' is a sentiment I can fully endorse.
Additionally Airbnb (whose platform I use to run my Experience walking tours) have been trying to look at ways of providing a tourism experience without having to leave the home. They've now launched an Online Experience option which I'm keen to explore. If I can get a decent signal all the way to Loch Ness there's potentially an option to take you with me as I go for my daily walk. Watch this space!
The biggest hurdle for me personally is overcoming a lack of motivation. I'm fortunate enough to a have a day job that is still keeping me very busy and while I'm desperate to create more content in the form of videos and blogs, keeping the momentum up has been hard. There's the question of 'what and who am I doing this for?', 'Does it matter?' and 'does anyone really give a shit?' After all they've got their own stuff to be dealing with, do they really want or need to see pretty pictures of the Highlands or listen to me to chuntering on about whatever pops into my skull? Fortunately the feedback has been great ( I'm really not seeking any validation here!) and if it makes one person smile or gives the briefest of distraction then I'm very content with that.
I'll be delighted to welcome everyone back, but it has to be tempered with a responsibility to my environment and my neighbours. So, don't come and visit us just yet. It's not that we don't like you or don't want you here. It's simply that we want everyone to stay fit and healthy and that's more important than anything else.