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Scottish Staycations Set To Soar!

Updated: Jun 21, 2021

With 93% of Scots considering a staycation to a Scottish island this year, Emma and Graeme Clark, owners of Glenegedale House in Islay, are welcoming back visitors with open arms after a very tough year of lockdown.

"When lockdown hit, we genuinely believed that we would only be closed for a wee while." Emma explained: "I think the overall feeling was understanding, a little bit scared, but at that point, we were very trusting in the government and believe that it would only be for a short time."

5 Star Glenegedale House, Islay

With over 12 months of uncertainty, the husband and wife duo have worked tirelessly to ensure the survival of their guesthouse. Eight years ago they gave up two successful careers, moving back to Emma’s childhood home of Isaly to start this new venture. They couldn’t let COVID destroy this.

While both Emma and Graeme were highly appreciative of grants they received from the government, they were faced with a massive shortfall, the money they received left them 75% short of their mortgage payment, not even taking into consideration bills, like gas and electric.

Emma stated that: "Scottish hospitality received less money compared to the other devolved nations: England, Ireland and Wales, which was frustrating as Scotland was given the same amount money from the UK Government, but this wasn't passed on the Scottish hospitality sector.” Emma went on to say: “Somewhere there is a pot of money that had hospitalities name written on it, that money was never dished out." She joked that the money they did not receive would be a distant memory to the Scottish government as it would have been spent a long time ago!

Emma expressed relief that although classed as a Bed and Breakfast (B&B), they operate as slightly more. Allowing them to receive more government help, compared to many traditional B&B’s. The perception is that a B&B is a secondary income, and therefore not given as much help by the government.

Last summer, when travel restrictions eased people slowly returned to island communities, enjoying tranquil beaches and fantastic scenery. Sadly the number of tourists to Islay decreased, compared to 2019, a decline of 84%.

"This year, we are sitting at about 30% of our tourist target so far, but anticipating it will take a long time to return to normal levels." As owner of the award-winning guesthouse Emma still hopes the increase in visitors will happen sooner rather than later as vaccinations are rolled out and people grow in confidence to travel again.

A Facebook survey showed that 93% of those asked will holiday in Scotland this year; however, the minority, 7% felt that the risk of COVID-19 is still too significant to even travel in Scotland. At Glenegedale House, Emma and Graeme have made their guests safety a number one priority and made their guest house COVID secure.

"We all wear masks. As soon as we enter the guest side of the house, we always have our masks on. We have sanitiser at every entry point of the house and two other points within the house. When cleaning, we're masked up, wearing visors, aprons and gloves. We look like spacemen!" Emma chuckled.

"We also invested in a Storm Buster, which is a machine that kills Coronavirus within 30 seconds, as well as other viruses and bacteria. The machine alone cost £1,200, then £600 for the Corona Guard. Again, that's over a months grant gone, and again haven't even paid the bills! We do this as it makes us safe, and the guests extra safe.That’s all that really matters.”

“Now we have reopened ; our expectation is to have no expectation - I know that sounds silly - but anything can change at any minute. If someone were to say that’s COVID over or if they told us we had to shut down again, I would believe them either way. Everything is different nowadays. Ordering is different. Our thought process is different. Everything we do, we question with "What if?" We have come to the point where we said, "Stop with the what if's and order as normal. I think over that past week; we have spent over £8,000 on new things for our guest to make their stay even more comfortable"

"I would love to say that there will be an increase in visitors to Islay this year, but I don't think there will. Right now we have fewer visitors than normal, and a completely different customer market. Under normal circumstances, 85% of visitors are international tourists drawn to the vast whisky industry. Currently, we are sitting at around 30% of visitors, estimating it to go up to at least 45%, with the majority of the guests being from the UK ."

Views of Lagavulin Distillery, Islay

A Facebook survey showed that tourists who come to Islay or any other Scottish island like Orkney, Tiree or Arran, visit the islands to sample local cuisine ; take boat trips around the islands; hiking, hill walking; beach days and seeing local wildlife. Residents are looking forward to seeing tourist back as well, although there is fear about visitors bringing COVID into the island.

Emma explains that the majority of the island is ready to welcome tourists . However, she spoke about a resident who did not want tourism to open back up again because they enjoyed having the beaches to themselves, it's not because they do not want tourists; it is just because they have enjoyed the island being quiet.

Emma is currently planning itineraries for bloggers, who write for the National Geographic, The Scotsman and The Sunday Post. These bloggers will be visiting Islay during the summer to help with further island promotion.

Overall, Emma believes, "This last lockdown has made people value tourism a lot more, so it's made us think differently."

With the increase in Scots staycationing , the local residents and businesses on the Scottish islands are well prepared to welcome back visitors. There are plans in place to keep both residents and tourists safe from COVID-19. Locals hope this will encourage tourists to return and enjoy holidays again. An increase in tourists will generate more trade for the tourism industry in Scotland and local businesses on the islands, like Emma and Graeme’s guest house, where they will be able to recover from the financial strains of COVID-19 and continue to build on their success.

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