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Following the easing of lockdown restrictions in most parts of Scotland on 17 May, rural businesses have been preparing for a safe and hopefully prosperous Summer. Indoor gatherings may be on the menu once again for many; however, alfresco dining areas, outdoor markets and pop-up structures are important to the rural hospitality sector and these facilities are in-line with the Scottish Government’s continuing preference for open-air social gatherings as cafés, farm shops, restaurants and events re-open.
On 1June, the Scottish Government announced that much of the country would remain at or be categorised in the Level 2 protection tier from Saturday 5 June, while other parts of the country were to be subject to the Level 1 or Level 0 protection tiers.
One possible outcome of the recent additional restrictions on foreign travel may be increased revenue from UK ‘Staycationers,’ in which case it will be vital for businesses to understand what each tier means operationally. Adapting promptly to Scottish Government guidance on the provision of indoor and outdoor hospitality across the tier levels, while also complying with existing health and safety, employment and equalities obligations will be required to ensure that business is carried out safely and efficiently. Guidance for the tourism and hospitality sector, including operational procedures and checklists, is available on the Scottish Government’s website.
Communicating how goods or services will be delivered and the safety measures being taken will be key to helping potential customers make informed choices while they make plans, most likely at short notice. This can be as simple as ensuring that the business’s website, social media or signage include up-to-date opening hours and clarifying any booking or operational requirements. This is particularly relevant to rural businesses where there can be less footfall and potential customers will look to the internet to check the availability of local amenities.
Continuing Scottish Government measures
As part of the Scottish Government’s strategy to promote outdoor hospitality, Kevin Stewart MSP, Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, continued special measures earlier this year to facilitate the erection of temporary buildings by the hospitality sector. This relaxation, which has been extended until 30 September 2021, is intended to enable businesses to offer outdoor covered areas while complying with the Scottish Government’s physical distancing measures.
Rural businesses should check local stipulations with their local authority’s planning and building control departments up front and they will also have to comply with existing obligations such as grant schemes, third-party access rights, occupiers liability, rights held by utilities providers and land and property designations.
Opportunities for Diversification
As we learn to live with Covid-19, rural businesses are identifying changing trends such as ‘buy local’ and domestic tourism and many are investing in diversification opportunities such as using land for pop-up camping or glamping sites as part of the general cultural emphasis on social distancing. Some businesses may consider investing in all-weather facilities.
The challenging times continue but hopefully with the support of UK-based families, who need not travel far afield to find world-class food and drink in a striking setting, Scotland’s rural hospitality businesses will be able to do what they do best this Summer and rewarded with a sustained period of revenue.
Euan Fraser, Trainee Solicitor
Rural Land & Business
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