Brexit-related staff shortages, escalating rates and a half-hearted tourism strategy is set to see independent accommodation providers shutting their doors in the highlands.
That is stark the warning of a major body of hoteliers which claims lack of central vision and support will see the region fail to cope with booming visitor numbers.
The creation of the North Coast 500 route has led to a hike in tourists and enterprise bosses have outlined ambitions to grow highland tourism revenue by an extra £600m.
However, Inverness Hotels Association, which represents 80 percent of the capital’s provision, says staffing shortages are reaching crisis levels, with European applicants drying up due to Brexit fears.
Tourism generates the biggest demand for staff of all industry sectors in highlands, yet only 20-30 hospitality students are currently undergoing training at University of the Highlands and Islands. The group wants to meet with government officials, council representatives and enterprise bodies to agree urgent measures to prevent a skills and infrastructure breakdown.
Rising staff and utility costs, looming threats of a 150% business rate hike and the impact of cheap Airbnb’s are pushing independent accommodation providers to the brink in Inverness.
“If nothing is done, smaller, independent or family businesses will be forced to close. It is already happening, not just in Inverness, across the highlands. Chains will dominate because any business with 20-30 bedrooms can’t cope any more. Profit is not there, and staffing has become a complete nightmare. Since Brexit, CV’s coming from Europe have all but dried up,” said Inverness Hotels Association Chairman, Emmanuel Moine, who worked in the French hospitality sector prior to relocating to Inverness.
“We need to build a domestic workforce but there seems to be a lack of will and poor promotion of hospitality as a proper career in Scotland. That has to change.”
Scotland’s accommodation sector has been hit with business rate re-evaluations, employee Living Wage, apprenticeship and pension changes and VAT bills standing at the highest in Europe. A ‘perfect storm’ of industry burdens has eaten away at profitability for smaller enterprises, despite greater demand for accommodation from overseas and UK tourists.
“What we need is a loosening of government financial burdens and a long-term vision. There is huge potential in highland tourism. The North Coast 500 has been terrific but there are very few hotel accommodation and eating options,” added Mr Moine.
“We know of one owner who had a small hotel but the costs got too high, she couldn’t get skilled staff and sold it.
“Last year, highland councillors criticised hoteliers for raising prices at peak season but it is only possible a few weeks per year. No one mention hotels selling off rooms cheaply in winter. Instead of criticism, councils should be encouraging more hotels to open and developing Inverness centre.
“Thousands of people are getting off cruise ships at Invergordon but they won’t go to Inverness. There’s nothing to do. Other than pubs, the place shuts down at 5 o’clock.”
Inverness Hotels Association, which is affiliated to The Scottish Tourism Alliance, will be writing to MSPs and councillors to seek talks.
While debate is ongoing about a Scottish ‘tourism tax’, the group feel it is another burden the sector in the highlands can ill afford.