‘We’ll have no choice but to cease trading until next April’

By Alistair June 7, 2020 16:18

A number of golf clubs that rely on overseas visitors, particularly in Scotland and Ireland, fear that they will have to close down unless government action is taken before the end of this month.

Last week managers of several Scottish golf clubs called for the introduction of a Covid-19 quality assurance scheme so they can assure tourists that they will be safe.

‘If we are not able to operate profitably by the start of July then many of us will have no choice but to cease trading until next April, with sadly a number of businesses not even able to hold on until then,’ states the letter to the Scottish government signed by the likes of Ian Ferguson from Dundonald Links, Neil Hampton from Royal Dornoch, Stuart McColm from Castle Stuart, David Roy from Crail, David Scott from Dumbarnie Links, Gordon Simpson from Gullane and Colin Sinclair from Nairn.

Dumbarnie Golf Links – which only opened last month, and has been marketed to American tourists

‘The proposed two week quarantine period kills the global market dead. If imposed, we need a firm date when it will be lifted or told it is here until the end of the season to give our booked clients the chance to cancel thereby freeing space for local and domestic bookings on both the golf courses and in the hotels,’ the letter adds.

“Coronavirus crisis has ripped the heart out of the tourism industry in Scotland and the Highlands is always badly affected when that happens,” Stuart McColm told The Scotsman.

“We’re only going to hit 15 or 20 per cent of our normal expected turnover this year. I don’t need to spell out the math on that in terms of a deficit. Put it this way, it won’t pay the bills this year.

“That being the case, I fully expect we will survive this year. We have a game plan and budget to suit. Rest assured, we are on a no redundancy policy.

“I think it is going to be the first week of August before any hotels are operational in any capacity. That has a bearing on our ability to get golfers into the area.

“I had budgeted a certain amount for the month for locals and I’ve achieved that in the first week, which is excellent. As for the next few weeks and months, I’d love a crystal ball as it’s hinged on an awful lot of things, including the travel restrictions.”

At Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, which hosted the Open Championship less than a year ago, more than 80 per cent of the visiting golfers come from overseas, mainly from the United States.

“This year we were gearing up for, I don’t know if it was the busiest green fee summer in the club’s history but we were effectively fully booked,” the club’s new manager, John Lawler, has told the Irish Times.

Covid-19 has had a “significant impact” on bookings at Royal Portrush; the “vast majority” have been moved into 2021. “Some of our tour operators, they’re particularly hardy people, and they’ve said, ‘if we can get there, we’re coming’, and we’ve said, ‘if you can get here, we’ll welcome you’,” said Lawler.

“I can imagine how difficult it is for government to give clarity around dates but certainly from our perspective if there was a way of having a date in mind – with an enormous asterisk beside it saying this may change – that itself would give a focus on when we need to be ready for the next steps.

“It will be a summer where members make up the majority of the rounds of golf, and that presents an opportunity as well and a chance to engage with members after a busy couple of years and explore some innovations.”

Royal Portrush GC in Northern Ireland. Image from Facebook

Royal Portrush Golf Club captain Ian Kerr added: “I sit on the Golf Ireland board and I get an overview of the impact this is having on Irish golf, and it is profound.”

There are clubs “in real distress”, he explained. “The whole sector has great uncertainty hanging over it as to when they can get back to normal and start trading again.

“We just hope they survive so that whenever things pick up they will get a share of the benefit whenever the Americans and our other overseas visitors come again.”

It’s a similar story in the Republic of Ireland. While many clubs have seen a membership boom in recent weeks – Mark Ruddy, the general manager of Lucan Golf Club, calculated that in the first two weeks of play since the restrictions were eased, his club saw 92 percent untilisation of the time sheet compared to a 56 percent take-up on the same period last year – venues that rely on overseas visitors are very concerned about the next few months.

Jim Murphy, the CEO of PREM Group, which operates 38 venues, including Tulfarris Hotel & Golf Resort, said: “It is now time to urgently deal with the detrimental economic consequences that this virus has left in its wake.”

The group has 1,046 people under direct report, 83 percent of these employees have now been laid off.

Jim Murphy

“Hospitality staff are the backbone of our economy and are particularly important in rural areas which are dependent on tourism. There are now over 260,000 hospitality workers laid off in this country. If the government do not take decisive, clear and immediate action many hospitality outlets may never trade again. There is also too much confusion and debate around the one metre versus two metre distance rule and too much uncertainty around VAT, business supports and the continuation of the job subsidy scheme.”

Murphy believes the government must listen to hospitality groups who have been calling for various measures to be put in place such as the removal of quarantine restrictions and the replacement of the two metre social distancing measure to one metre.

Tulfarris Hotel & Golf Resort

“From a practical point of view the hospitality industry needs urgent support,” he said, “liquidity measures and business grants must be put in place to help tourism businesses to survive. There are huge extra costs now associated with doing business in a Covid- 19 or post pandemic world, there is more training required for staff, strict and comprehensive cleaning and sterilising and greatly reduced capacity for guests. We have to operate with more costs and fewer guests.

“If decisive, clear and immediate measures are not put in place for the hospitality and tourism industry it will take years for it to recover. The government must take urgent action and allow hotels to open now or at the very latest at the end of June, not in July or it will be too late in the season and may do irreversible damage to an already fragile industry.”


By Alistair June 7, 2020 16:18

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