Rural Exchange

Accommodation Sector Insights

Scotland’s accommodation sector – A qualitative case study of business experiences

This research explored recent, current and future challenges and opportunities facing accommodation businesses, a sector which has a vital role to play in the economic and social vibrancy of many rural and island communities across Scotland. The research provides a picture of the recent ‘real life experiences’ of these businesses in a period which has seen the UK leave the EU, the Covid-19 pandemic and the cost of living crisis, in addition to other legislative and policy developments.

The NISRIE team undertook in-depth, online qualitative interviews with a number of owners/managers from accommodation businesses in rural and island communities, and individuals from business representative organisations from the tourism sector. The sample included a range of ownership structures and business types in a geographical spread of locations across rural and island Scotland.

“The impact on business owners… over the last few years has been significant… I can’t even express the impact that the last few years have had on some business owners and their health and wellbeing. Their mental health has been, you know, off the scale, in some places, and it’s been very traumatic obviously for them… seeing businesses which have been their life’s work in some case destroyed in front of their eyes, is you know, heart wrenching. It’s been a very, very difficult time, and I still think it’s a difficult time… because we’ve had Brexit, we’ve had Covid, we’ve got the current economic crisis with the cost of doing business, cost of living crisis. But on top of that we’ve had a whole barrage of new legislation and policy from government as well. That's all hitting at the same time, which is more cost, confusion, complexity for businesses to deal with a time when you know they're still trying to recover and come out the end of what has been an incredibly difficult period. And so for many it, you know, it's still the case I mean, obviously the short term let legislation, particularly impacts the small accommodation sector…”

On the basis of the evidence gathered from the interviews, we suggested the following issues be considered by policymakers seeking to support businesses across rural and island communities in Scotland:

  • Improving the recruitment and retention of skilled labour.
  • Addressing the long-standing issue of a shortage of housing supply and its unaffordability.
  • Ensuring reliable, good quality transport infrastructure (public and private, on land, sea and by air) and digital connectivity.
  • Improving understanding of the circumstances, challenges and opportunities of rural and island businesses.
  • Engaging rural and island accommodation businesses in designing new legislation and policies from the outset and on a continuous basis is critical to achieving their buy-in.
  • Ensuring policies and legislation are much more joined-up to ensure clarity and reduce complexity for businesses.
  • Supporting businesses to achieve greater environmental sustainability and to demonstrate their ‘green’ credentials.
  • Ensuring policies and legislation, where possible, are flexible enough to recognise different circumstances.
  • Monitoring the ongoing impacts of the cost of living crisis, including higher energy prices, for businesses.
  • Facilitating the growth of new tourism activities, including health and wellbeing type experiences, and of the sustainable growth of local economies, including through the community wealth building or circular economy legislation.
  • Recognising the role of rural and island businesses in their wider communities, beyond simply creating income and jobs and encouraging supportive business networks to form.

Authors: Jane Atterton, Jane Atterton, A Sellars, Carol Langston, Steven Thomson, Ana Vuin, Alexa Green. >Funded by the Scottish Government Strategic Research Programme 2022- 2027. SRUC-E1-1: Novel insights on Scotland’s rural and island economies (NISRIE)

The report can be accessed through the download link below or from DOI: https://doi.org/10.58073/SRUC.24438268.v1 

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