SCOTLAND’S domestic travel sector is hoping to cash in on the uncertainty over the resumption of the international market.

That fear of shifting Covid situations abroad has been realised all too clearly with the current changing circumstances in Portugal which has been a magnet for holidaymakers after it was given a green light.

The Portuguese government caused panic among holidaymakers last week – and supporters going out to watch the Champions League Final between Chelsea and Manchester City on May 29 – when they declared “a state of calamity” in the country.

With the Portuguese now pushing the date when this would affect British holidaymakers out to May 30, the travel sector finds itself hampered by the lack of clear messaging.

Joanne Dooey, who is president of the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association, said: “Portugal’s Covid status is that the country is in a ‘state of calamity’ – which is one step below their ‘state of emergency’ level.

“This phrase also describes the position for travel agents this [past] week.”

The Portuguese will insist that visitors present a negative PCR test for Covid-19 taken within 72 hours of their flight departing.

With such uncertainty clouding foreign travel, the Scottish travel sector is hoping that this might save its home industry from its own calamity.

Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland, said: “It is clear that tourism has been one of the greatest economic casualties of the pandemic.

“We’ve had a year of very little investment, job losses and business closures – it will take time and significant investment to get us back to a thriving industry.

“However, with visitor surveys showing increasing consumer confidence, and the announcement of further easing to restrictions on Monday, there are encouraging signs of hope for the summer months ahead.

“Our marketing activity will be focused on encouraging people to staycation this summer and into the autumn and we are poised to restart our international marketing when the time is right, and restrictions allow.

“While we continue to work with and support businesses to ensure we rebuild this vital part of Scotland’s economy in a safe and responsible way, there will be an emphasis on those destinations and sectors which have been hardest hit.

“Not only is our country and all it offers a perfect destination for a post-lockdown holiday, but Scottish tourism needs all of our support.”

THAT clarion call for the public to back the home market is echoed by the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA), the representative body for tourism business in Scotland which has reported a continued deflation among its members.

The organisation conducted research, predominantly with hospitality businesses, following the easing of some restrictions on April 26.

The STA surveyed 271 businesses and found that 30% took the decision to remain closed from April 26, and of those, 31% have said that they did not plan to reopen with the easing of restrictions.

The organisation’s research highlighted an extremely slow start to accommodation bookings – between 41-45% of accommodation providers who responded indicated that over the course of May, June and July, occupancy is sitting at below 20%.

Hotel business has been particularly slow to see any recovery with 62% of rural hotels reporting less than 50% occupancy for May.

The picture is almost identical for June and for July, as 54% of rural hotels indicate that their occupancy will be lower than 50% and just 30% have said they expect occupancy higher than 60%.

When it comes to cities, 94% of their hotels are reporting occupancy levels of below 50% in May, 98% are reporting occupancy levels of below 50% in June and 87% are reporting occupancy levels of below 50% in July.

STA chief executive Marc Crothall said: “Our survey uncovered what we knew was happening across the industry from anecdotal conversations – that things were nowhere near as buoyant as has been suggested and, in fact, that too many businesses across all sectors within our industry are continuing to operate in crisis mode.

“While the smaller properties within the self-catering sector are looking at a positive level of recovery, other accommodation providers are struggling as bookings are not coming in at the level needed to trade viably over what would be the busiest part of the year.

“And food and beverage income is far from healthy across the board, although this will hopefully change with the next easing of restrictions on May 17.

“A great deal rides on the further easing of restrictions, particularly for the night-time economy and events industry.

“This really is the last chance for most of Scotland’s tourism industry to start to recoup some of the lost income from the past year, however, I know that that easing will not go far enough for many as our research indicates.

“It may very well be too late for recovery.”