Tourism is one of Scotland’s key industries – but Tory visa plans could be catastrophic

‘People Make Glasgow’ – those of us who live in the city already know this to be true, but now the rest of the world does too. Time Out Magazine, one of the go-to guides for tourists, has just named our city the world’s friendliest.

It has also cited Glasgow as one of the top ten cities in the world to visit this year – a great accolade to get at any time but particularly so during Scottish Tourism Month.

Recent statistics have shown that record numbers are visiting Scotland’s historic sights. There have also been increases in international visitors coming to Scotland, particularly from Europe.

Whilst our landscapes and rich history remain a huge draw for tourists, Scotland’s tourism industry is also diversifying its offer, going beyond the traditional to help secure future growth and success.

Glasgow, for example, has secured its reputation as one of the best cities in the world at hosting major events. Following the success of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, it has gone on to host the first ever European Championships, which were supported by £63 million of Scottish Government funding, and just a few weeks ago the European Athletics Indoor Championships took place in Glasgow too.

And our sporting credentials are set to be strengthened even further. I was delighted that last month the Scottish Government helped ensure that the first ever combined UCI Cycling World Championships will be hosted by Glasgow in 2023.

The bold and innovative approach we have taken means this will be the first time ever that all the cycling disciplines have been brought together to compete at the same time in one country – that’s thirteen cycling world championships over the course of two weeks, with Glasgow playing host to several of them.

Glasgow is also the destination of choice for music tourists. It was the first place in the UK to become a designated UNESCO City of Music and you can see and listen to music of any genre almost any night of the week. From festivals such as Celtic Connections, which just received £100,000 from the Scottish Government, to legendary venues like Barrowlands, King Tut’s and multi-capacity arenas such as the Hydro, Glasgow’s music scene helps to bring hundreds of thousands of tourists to the city each year, generating millions of pounds for the economy.

This in turn supports thousands of jobs across the city and offers new opportunities for enterprise. Glasgow Music City Tours, for example, is a great example of a small company capitalising on the city’s music credentials, offering a range of walking tours that tell the story of Glasgow’s music heritage.

The opportunities for diversifying tourism in Glasgow and across Scotland are plentiful – however the industry also faces a number of challenges, many of them a result of Brexit.

Tourism is one of Scotland’s key growth sectors, employing over 200,000 people.

However a significant proportion of people working in the industry are EU citizens – over 11% in fact. So leaving the EU is a huge threat to the strength of the sector’s workforce.

Since the vote to leave the EU, we’ve seen significant drops in applications from other EU countries for roles in nursing, teaching and other professions. At the industry’s major conference last week, the Scottish Tourism Alliance revealed the extent of the crisis for tourism and hospitality, noting that one company specialising in recruitment for the sector has seen a staggering drop in applications from across the EU, from 20,000 to 2,000 per month. And all this is before the UK Government has officially ended freedom of movement.

The Tories’ plan for a new immigration system will do nothing to help solve this issue – in fact it could make it worse. The proposal to set a £30,000 salary threshold for work visas is likely to exclude the vast majority of roles in tourism and hospitality. These roles have been described – wrongly in our view – as ‘low skilled’ and therefore not a priority for the future immigration rules.

It’s another example of the UK Government developing policy with no consideration of Scotland’s specific circumstances, and with little or no meaningful engagement. I can only hope they take heed of the concerns raised by us, the tourism sector and others, and drop the proposed salary threshold. If they don’t, the Tories will be doing catastrophic damage to Scotland’s workforce and economy.

The Scottish Government will continue to work with partners in tourism to do all we can to help future-proof the workforce, particularly through our support for modern apprenticeships and efforts to promote tourism as a career of choice.

However the impact of Brexit on tourism goes beyond the workforce – the EU currently accounts for six out of Scotland’s ten key visitor markets and around 38% of our overseas visitors. Adding barriers to travelling freely will put recent industry success at risk.

In the face of these challenges, the Scottish Government will continue to stand firm against Scotland being taken out of the EU, and we will work collaboratively with industry to ensure that Scotland retains its reputation as a warm, welcoming, open destination.