The Scottish Government is working closely with our national tourism organisation, VisitScotland, to monitor the situation as it develops and the impacts that it might have on our tourism industry. At this stage, it is key that we share messaging about measures to limit the extent of the outbreak. VisitScotland is the main conduit of information on Covid-19 to the industry and to current and future visitors. That links directly to the advice from the national health service and the Scottish Government.
The tourism sector is already impacted by coronavirus, as bookings are being cancelled and holiday plans are being delayed. What can the Scottish Government do to give emergency support to tourism businesses in the months ahead? Is there an opportunity to look at business rates? That reflects calls from the Scottish Tourism Alliance.
All those things will require to be considered very carefully in due course. Claire Baker is correct to say that the tourism industry suffers earlier than other industries. That is principally because of cancellations, many of which are not really because of the facts; rather, they are because of perceptions and media reports. I have already received, as members across the chamber will have, many expressions of concern, especially from small tourism businesses that are particularly vulnerable.
We are taking the issue very seriously and we will come back to it. I have fed in the concerns to SGoRR—the Scottish Government resilience room—which is our equivalent of COBRA, and I will continue to do that.
At the moment, the most important thing is that all of us listen to, act on and respond to the messaging that is put out by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, the chief medical officer and others in order to best minimise the consequences of a very serious virus.
This morning, I had a conference call with, I think, 27 participants who represented the main retail organisations in Scotland. We discussed a number of very important practical things that we will take forward.
On the food and drink sector specifically, later this afternoon I will chair by telephone a meeting of a resilience group for the wider food and drink sector. We will discuss the practical impacts of coronavirus and how best we can tackle them.
Rest assured, I and, of course, all my colleagues in the Scottish Government are treating the matter as the most important matter that requires to be dealt with by us at this time.
I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of interests. I am a shareholder in a hospitality business.
With the pressures on the hospitality and tourism industry and a potential drop in visitor numbers to the United Kingdom because of coronavirus, does the cabinet secretary agree with the calls from UK Hospitality and the STA, which have said that a delay to introducing or abandoning proposals to introduce a damaging tourist tax at this time would be preferential?
First, it would be less than courteous of me not to welcome Ms Hamilton to her new responsibilities. I appreciate that she has a lifetime of experience in the field. I welcome her to her role and look forward to working constructively with her.
Turning to the member’s question, I think it important that we postpone concerns about other matters—of which the visitor levy is one—which the Parliament will deal with in due course. With respect, right now we should focus on matters relating to the coronavirus and how we might tackle them. We must also ensure that we are engaging fully with sectors such as the food and drink sector, which Mr MacDonald mentioned, and the retail sector, so that, as a team, we are all able to respond as effectively as possible to minimise and mitigate the consequences for all in Scotland, including the tourism sector.
The cabinet secretary will be aware of the growing importance of the cruise liner market to our tourism sector, including in Orkney. What specific advice and support are the Government and its agencies able to give local authorities such as Orkney Islands Council to ensure that risks relating to cruise traffic are managed effectively?
Mr McArthur is absolutely right: the cruise sector is extremely important to Scotland. It is one of the fastest-growing sectors in tourism that we have had—I think that it has grown around tenfold since the Parliament was reconvened.
When I visited his constituency when I was on holiday last summer, I saw just how popular Kirkwall and the Orkneys are as tourism destinations for cruise liner passengers—as, indeed, is the case around our coasts.
I assure Mr McArthur that there is close liaison with all local authorities about how best to deal with the coronavirus. The headline information, on which my colleague Jeane Freeman is leading, is that it is important for us all, as individuals and as citizens of Scotland, to get the published messages across, to continue to follow them correctly and to use our role as leaders in society to ensure that others follow our lead.