One of the worst hit sectors of the Covid19 lockdown has been tourism. In Orkney this meant no cruise ships calling in, no day trippers and no holiday lets. It has also resulted in the cancellation of Orkney’s popular festivals: St Magnus Festival, Orkney Folk Festival, Stromness Shopping Week and the Agricultural Shows. All these events and more bring in significant amounts of money into the islands. They also promote the amazing food and drink sector in Orkney.
Funding over the years was also directed at the tourism sector by both the Scottish Government and the local authority. Other sectors of the economy were put to one side as the boost in visitor numbers and the rewards it would bring was the main focus.
The Covid19 pandemic has brought the tourism industry worldwide into serious decline. Scotland and Orkney which put so much effort into promoting this sector needs to look at how it can recover once the lockdown is lifted.
Accommodation and food services make up 80% of the tourism sector in Scotland according to the latest report from the Fraser of Allander Institute. Those services employ over 155,000 people in Scotland. Many of these will be seasonal workers in rural and island communities with over half of the workforce women.
Orkney is a low wage economy and tourism is likewise a low wage industry. Add into those facts that the predominately female workforce are low wage earners now deprived – perhaps for a long time – of much needed income.
Reflecting the fact that earnings are on average low for this sector, weekly average household income for households with an AFS [accommodation and food sector] worker (the combination of net earnings, social security payments minus housing costs) was around 15% lower than the Scottish average. FAI
More worryingly still is that the majority of workers in this area of the tourism industry live in single adult households – this means that their income is the only one which was coming in, low as it was. This is why for many workers in the tourism sector they have a second job but now also most likely affected by lockdown. Certainly for those households, their current income won’t be enough to maintain a decent quality of life for themselves and the families they support.
The fact that people in this sector are already at higher risk of poverty than the average population means that they are likely to have less of a buffer to survive long periods of low or no earnings FAI
Whether tourism can recover in Scotland, or closer to home in Orkney, to the levels it had before Covid19 is hard to see in the short term. It is in the nature of a virus that it comes not just in one sweep but in two, sometimes even three. Until a vaccine is produced and administered there will continue to be limits on travel. Many people may also choose not to travel until they are certain it is safe to do so.
This is a time for examining the tourism sector much more closely than ever before. Change is required. That workers are employed, not on the lowest wages but on the fairest wages. And it should be the end of zero hours contracts.
Nationally and locally too, governments need to consider the balance that is needed to maintain a resilient and green economy. What has been made very clear from the lockdown restrictions is that failure to do so will make it more difficult to recover both the health of the economy and of our communities.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame