Rough estimates put a value of £11 billion on tourism to Scotland, that’s around 5% of GDP. To keep that in perspective in Spain it’s 16% or £171 billion. The further north you go the greater the contribution, the Highlands has a more fragile economic base so we rely heavily on friends from all over the globe coming to enjoy the beauty, the golf, drams and food.
Now Imagine you own a hotel, restaurant or gastro pub. You’ve eked out the last few pennies from the 2019 season, perhaps converted a cupboard to create another en-suite over the winter, replaced a carpet or two and bought some updated kit for the kitchen.
Mothering Sunday kicks it all off with a new menu and a fresh lick of paint. Then some Easter bookings, a string of bank holidays, hold your breath and before you know it June, July, August and you can fill your establishment many times over. You have to work very hard so as to make sure the banks full again so that you can crawl through the long winter and be here for the following year.
Then the unthinkable descends. – A once in a lifetime horror story. An extra-terrestrial attack. Covid 19. The Government says “stay shut” – No customers. No tourists. No flights to bring them to you. Nobody allowed to move. It’s the very thing of Hell.
The entire support network from plumbers to fishmongers, taxis to laundrettes and bakers to cheesemakers take a kicking.
At Highland Fine Cheese about 70% of our trade is tied up in serving food service specialists, but now they’re not serving food. It’s just simply stopped. Actually, it never started. And can it really get going in July with half the year already in ruins? Well no, it can’t, because if we all have to remain meters apart, if your pub isn’t rammed on a Friday and Saturday night, shoulder to shoulder and four deep at the bar, you won’t be making any money. It’s quite tempting to pull the blankets back over your head and say goodbye, see you on the other side of Hogmanay. And, to be honest, that’s pretty much what I have done.
Luckily, for our little business, the wholesale and retail trade hasn’t. They’ve innovated, shown entrepreneurial spirit: “Click and Collect – Home Delivery – On-Line Sales”. So many have premises and vehicles, staff and stock and they have decided to fight back and keep trading and we very, very much appreciate their hard work for without them I doubt we could even consider making it through. These are very difficult days.
Our dairy farmers have also tried to assist. Cows have been dried off early. They’ve bought in lambs and moved to multi suckling. Milk dispensers have also been put in and honesty shops.
I don’t think any of us can claim to be anywhere near profitable but right now it’s all about survival, just scraping through and facing up to a very long winter before we attempt to re-start the economy in the “New” normal of 2021.
There’s been a huge groundswell of support from everyone, people genuinely reconnecting with their food producers and looking to invest in keeping us all going. It has also brought the opportunity to talk to anyone, pick up the telephone and it doesn’t matter if they are a small farmer with 30 cows or the CEO of a £100 million turnover dairy processor – they all have time for you, advice and insights to offer and everyone is being extremely candid. It’s always tempting to believe that perhaps you are the only one to be found swimming without trunks when they drained the pool but actually nobodies pretending to be prepared for this, it’s devastating for all.
Some have already gone, major hotel chains declared bankrupt, retailers finished. Perhaps many considered it was a good time to pack up anyway, retire, hang up the chef’s hat – there’s no ignominy in failure when you are faced with insurmountable odds.
For me, well I’ve just had to concentrate on making the best cheese I can for every sale is vital. I’ve discovered bare foot walking on the beach, my plates of meat are stuffed into wellies most of the day and there’s inevitably some whey sloshing around in there too! So I’ve never been one to inflict them on others. But walking on the sand and in surf is very relaxing. I’ve even attempted a little yoga and I have a designated parking space at the bottle bank where I’ve made many new friends – at a distance of course!
So thank you to Williamson’s, Corner on the Square, Clarks, The Cress Company, Campbell’s, Nottingham Cheese Shop………this list is long…… all those specialist cheese people who continue to trade, who are doing their upmost to keep the pennies circulating. And for those in hospitality we are here still to support you when lock-down lifts, when you have the chance to put your business back together and count the real cost of this devastation, we need you to survive and thrive. But more than anything else Scotland is getting ready to open up and welcome tourists back and with arms open wide – 2 meters wide. We are still here in this most beautiful country – our golf courses never looked better, the fine food prepped, menus tested and we have even aged the drams a little more for you.
So please come back as soon as you can for it’s raining and the midges are starving!