Border rows and quarantine threats put English off visiting Scotland

Border rows and quarantine threats have put the English off visiting Scotland as tourism boss admits being ’embarrassed’ by protests

  • Signs have been brandished at the Border saying ‘England – get out of Scotland’
  • VisitScotland’s Riddell Graham said it damaged ‘wellbeing’ of tourism industry
  • He said Nicola Sturgeon ‘failed to shut down’ claims it is ‘closed’ to the English 

English visitors have been put off coming to Scotland because of Border protests and the threat of quarantine, tourism bosses have admitted.

A senior VisitScotland official said he was ’embarrassed’ by groups of protesters at the Border brandishing signs saying ‘England – get out of Scotland’.

Riddell Graham told MSPs this had damaged the ‘wellbeing’ of the vital industry, which has been left on its knees by the coronavirus pandemic.

He also admitted that some bookings were cancelled by people from England after Nicola Sturgeon threatened to impose quarantine on them.

But he defended a decision by the SNP Government to airbrush references to the ‘North of England’ out of a VisitScotland campaign.

A senior VisitScotland official said he was ’embarrassed’ by groups of protesters at the Border brandishing signs saying ‘England – get out of Scotland’

At a meeting of Holyrood’s tourism committee yesterday, Mr Graham was told by Tory MSP Oliver Mundell that leading industry figures think there has been ‘negative anti-English sentiment’ and that Scotland is not seen as a welcoming destination. 

The VisitScotland director of industry and destination development admitted he was ’embarrassed’ by the Border protesters, and added: ‘I think it was a minority view and one that is not representative of the rest of the country.’

Mr Mundell said Miss Sturgeon had ‘failed to shut down the perception that Scotland is closed to English visitors’.

The Tory MSP added he had been contacted by a tourism business that had been ‘inundated with angry calls’, many ‘turning into cancellations due to the alienation being created from Holyrood and the messages on many Border main roads’.

He said the firm had received an email from one customer asking if everything was OK with their booking ‘especially with Nicola Sturgeon threatening to quarantine us nasty English people’.

Mr Mundell asked what was being done to ‘reverse the damage’ and to guarantee that visitors get a ‘traditional, warm Scottish welcome’.

Mr Graham admitted there ‘were examples of people contacting businesses in relation to cancellation’, but added: ‘The experience I’ve seen and heard is in fact the opposite… I know people that had cancellations were rebooked.

‘It may have put off a small number of people coming from our most important market, England. But the figures and feedback I’ve had… in rural parts of Scotland it has been extremely busy with loads of English visitors around.’

Mr Mundell said Nicola Sturgeon, pictured yesterday during First Minister’s Questions in Edinburghm had ‘failed to shut down the perception that Scotland is closed to English visitors’

On the reason for the Government removing mention of England from a VisitScotland campaign, he said: ‘We were given guidance by the Scottish Government that to launch a major campaign UK-wide, not just England but UK-wide beyond Scotland, would not be the right thing to do at the time based on medical evidence we were given.

‘They were obviously much closer to the medical advice than we were, and two days after that advice was given there was a significant outbreak in the north of England which we were unaware of, and I suspect officials on the health side were and that made it absolutely sensible.

‘There seems no point in promoting tourism to parts of the country that have particular issues. A classic example would be why would we promote Scotland in North America when we have huge problems there with the virus?’

But Stephen Montgomery, a hotelier in Lockerbie, Dumfriesshire, said he has had ‘a lot of cancellations’ from English tourists, and called the advertising row a ‘nail in the coffin’ for hospitality firms.

He said: ‘It is not every part of the north of England that has a cluster outbreak.

‘You can’t relate that to what is happening in America, it is nonsensical.’

The committee also heard from the Scottish Tourism Alliance, which said 70,000 jobs could be lost if there is no quick recovery.

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