'AS we now enter Phase 3 of the roadmap out of lockdown, spare a thought for our beleaguered tourism industry, which has lost millions of pounds during the Covid-19 crisis.

The tourism industry in Scotland is normally worth around £11.5 billion a year to the economy, but has suffered very badly due to the lockdown. The much-awaited announcement that social distancing will be relaxed to one metre for pubs, restaurants and the retail sector was very welcome news - something the Scottish Conservatives and the business sector had been pushing for some time.

However, although this will help some parts of our tourist sector, the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) has warned that “a great deal is at stake” for them, and matters were not helped by the First Minister recently suggesting that anyone from England visiting Scotland may have to go into quarantine for two weeks.

STA revealed that English holidaymakers had been asking about full refunds for their Scottish ‘staycations’ if Ms Sturgeon forced them to quarantine.

Tourism has a vital role to play in kick-starting the nation’s economy, but business as a whole face many difficult challenges ahead as we come out of lockdown. The decision to ease social distancing to one metre for the hospitality and retail sectors has given them a lifeline, but it was very interesting to hear the thoughts of Professor Graeme Roy, Director at the University of Strathclyde’s Fraser of Allander Institute, when he underlined how serious the situation is for Scotland’s businesses by stating: “The immediate priority for many businesses is survival.”

The Scottish Conservatives have tried to help matters by encouraging residents to shop locally with our ‘Support our High Streets campaign,’ which included asking the Scottish Government to relax rules on outdoor eating and drinking.

The party also set out a five-point plan for businesses, entitled ‘A Plan to rebuild our Economy,’ which is aimed at kick-starting the economy. This includes proposals for freeing up planning restrictions and licensing along with greater support for Business Improvement Districts.

In addition, businesses need certainty with sustained cuts to business rates, including reducing the large business supplement and rates relief. The five-point plan stressed how more public procurement can help local economies – for example, every £1 spent with a local small or medium-sized business adds another 63p to the local economy.

We also asked the Scottish Government to help businesses go digital and trade online. The Scottish Conservative Party’s ambition is to make Scotland the ‘E-Commerce Capital of Europe’ by setting up an E-Commerce Task Force.

The health of the nation is paramount – especially in unprecedented times like we face now - but it is also vital that we safeguard the country’s economy as we now move towards the ‘new normal.’'