The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands)
‘Confidence’ key as communities remain fearful
Local fears that tourists might bring coronavirus to the Highlands sparked a wave of concern early in lockdown as visitors continued to head north.
Signs bearing the message “Tourists go home” appeared along the NC500, in car parks and at village entrances.
Around 30 campervans were turned away from the Nevis Range Centre in Fort William and the Scottish Government was moved to warn: “Do not travel to the Highlands and islands.”
Frazer Coupland, chief executive of Lochaber Chamber of Commerce, said elements of fear and hostility remain as businesses prepare for reopening.
He said: “A cab driver stopped and took a video of some clearly non-local people going into a guest house and put it all over social media.
“What the cab driver did wasn’t acceptable. Whether the guest house or the guests were right or wrong, that’s not up for vigilantes in our community to decide.
“We haven’t had the virus in Lochaber but seeing the horrific experience of Skye, people know how easy it would be for it to arrive.”
Mr Coupland and others are keen to ensure support and advice is there so places can reopen with confidence after lockdown. Highland MSP Kate Forbes said: “It is incumbent on local businesses and local residents to engage so that fears and concerns can be discussed and mitigated.
“Tourism is the lifeblood of the Highland economy and we said at the outset we would welcome visitors back when the time was right.”
Trudy Morris, chief executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, says confidence is the key to successful reopening.
“There is considerable angst in the community because there is low risk of Covid-19 at the moment.
“Confidence needs to be given to keep the Highlands open, friendly and welcoming.”
That is essential to preserve the famous Highland welcome, says Caithness councillor Struan Mackie.
“Vigilante-style hostility will do nothing but damage the hospitality sector and the hundreds of small businesses that rely on repeat customers and positive review for their livelihoods,” he said.
“For many visitors it is our Highland welcome and friendly hospitality that sets the Highlands apart, but the excellent strides to better our tourist offering can be easily undone.”
David Richardson of FSB Highlands and Islands said no matter what happens, everyone must respect the dangers Covid-19 can pose.