Scotland's tourism and country sports industries faces losing millions of pounds of bookings after a chaotic last-minute decision by SNP ministers to include self-catering accommodation in the ban on visits to other households.
Fergus Ewing, the Rural Economy and Tourism Secretary, wrote to the Association of Scotland's Self-Caterers (ASSC) confirming that only one household will be allowed to stay in self-catering properties from Friday.
He admitted this was a "change from the information that we were able to give you yesterday" and the Scottish Government made the about-turn following "further consideration" of public health factors.
But the ASSC said the U-turn, which the industry group only found out about from a radio programme, had sent "ripples of fear, anxiety, and stress throughout our sector."
Fiona Campbell, the group's chief executive, said Mr Ewing should create an exemption for the £723 million sector "to salvage some dignity from this confusing, embarrassing, and undignified mess.”
Scotland's landowners said the move had "dealt another huge blow which will cost jobs", with many properties fully booked until the end of the year by friends or family from more than one household.
Scottish Land & Estates predicted that many would now "look south of the Border for a holiday where the rules around self-catering properties are different in some areas."
Hammer blow to Scottish tourism from new Covid rules— ScottishLand&Estates (@ScotLandEstates) September 24, 2020
“Scottish tourism has been dealt another huge blow which will cost jobs, just as the sector could see a light at the end of a very long tunnel".#Covid19 #Tourism #Scotland
Read more:https://t.co/Ell9OmJutg pic.twitter.com/l4nUJG0RJI
Country sports groups said the "eleventh-hour U-turn" represented a "significant blow" to their industry as people from two or more households joining organised shooting parties on Scotland's sporting estates cannot stay in the same property.
The Association of Deer Management Groups (ADMG) said the change "really cuts the legs from under many rural businesses" and warned it could result in a £9 million hit to the rural economy.
Richard Cooke, the organisation's chairman, said it "will now prevent many planned stalking visits by people from Scotland, elsewhere in the UK and abroad."
Their furious reaction came after Nicola Sturgeon announced on Tuesday a nationwide ban on indoor visits to other households to try and tackle a spike in Covid-19 cases.
On the same day the ASSC said it received assurances from the SNP government that the ban did not include self-catering accommodation, meaning people from more than one household could holiday in the same property.
But the following day Prof Jason Leitch, Scotland's national clinical director, appeared on BBC Radio Scotland and announced that "you can’t have two households in self-catering so that would be like allowing them in your own home.”
After the ASSC demanded urgent clarification, the Scottish Government said that self-catering would not be included in the new restriction only for Mr Ewing to confirm it would a few hours later.
📣 NEW: BASC call on @scotgov to adopt a more consistent approach to coronavirus restrictions following an eleventh hour u-turn which means self-catering accommodation will now be subject to the one household rule. More here. ⬇️@bascnews @SCSTG https://t.co/qPyl66I2Lu— BASC Scotland (@BASCScotland) September 24, 2020
Sarah-Jane Laing, chief executive of Scottish Land & Estates, said: "The Scottish Government needs to urgently reverse this decision, which not only impacts on tourism businesses but will also have a knock-on impact on visitor attractions, local businesses and restaurants and pubs."
Ross Ewing, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation Scotland’s political and press officer, said the U-turn was "poorly communicated and is deeply disappointing."
He added: "While other accommodation businesses remain exempt from this rule, self-catering businesses appear to have been singled out with no real explanation at a time when they make a stalwart contribution to Scotland’s rural economy."
Andrew Grainger, spokesman for the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group, said: "This decision comes at the worst possible time for country sports tourism. Self-catering accommodation is widely used by country sports enthusiasts, and it is a key enabler in allowing sporting clients to enjoy Scotland’s unique selection of country sports while simultaneously contributing extensively to the rural economy."
But a Scottish Government spokesman said: "The position is clear and has been widely shared: only one household is permitted to share self-catering accommodation. Stakeholders have been informed, and guidance to operators is in progress."