SLTA ‘deeply concerned’ over state of hospitality in Scotland

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Outlook for 2024: Scottish venues experienced a poor new year according to SLTA MD Colin Wilkinson
Outlook for 2024: Scottish venues experienced a poor new year according to SLTA MD Colin Wilkinson

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Three out of four Scottish hospitality operators will need government support to survive this year while 96% say the Scottish government is out of touch with business community, according to the SLTA (Scottish Licensed Trade Association).

The survey from the SLTA looks at the challenges facing Scotland’s pubs, bars and hospitality venues as they go forward in 2024, with over 500 businesses responding.

SLTA managing director Colin Wilkinson said “Our sector plays a critical role in employment and is at the heart of Scotland’s tourism industry, and we are deeply concerned that 75% of respondents anticipate they will need government support to survive in 2024.

“Our survey is based upon quantitative research from outlets covering the length and breadth of the country.”

Extremely challenging

He continued: “The outlook for the licensed hospitality trade in 2024 remains extremely challenging with continuing financial pressures on the sector, chronic staff shortages, high energy prices, and a continuing cost-of-living crisis.

“While there was a flicker of optimism among some respondents, this was against a relatively poor year and 22% of respondents reported a decline in trading of over 10%.”

Wilkinson added that while Christmas was not quite as bad as expected in some areas, it certainly was not what was hoped for. New Year, however, was poor, even for some city centre pubs including in Edinburgh with its winter festival offerings.

He said there were reports of increased footfall and spend in some areas of the country but operators have had to increase prices due to cost pressures.

Business viability

“The key issue,” he said, “is business viability and profitability, which is currently under a great deal of pressure and is not what it should be or what is needed for many businesses to sustain a successful operation going forward in 2024 with the challenges that the industry will be facing.”

Wilkinson highlighted other key areas of concern and challenges to overcome including the deposit return scheme (DRS​) which will be back in the limelight in 2024 and the alcohol marketing and promotions restrictions on the horizon.

He also pointed to the “archaic commercial rating system used to assess licensed premises”, which the Scottish government is now committed to review and, of course, no rates relief for Scottish businesses.

Other findings from the survey included:

• 57% of outlets won’t be fully open in January/February 2024

• Trading conditions remain very challenging with rates, supplier and staffing costs continuing to increase

• 65% of respondents expect the economy to decline in 2024

• 53% of businesses saw trading levels either remaining the same or declining on the previous calendar year, with 22% having declined by over 10%

• Looking forward, 68% of outlets expect business performance in 2024 to be about the same or in slight decline versus 2023

• Over one third of outlets are advising staff availability is impacting on trading

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