golf tourism

‘Our businesses are being crippled’: The stark reality facing clubs reliant on international tourism

The worrying situation for golf clubs whose main income comes from international visitors, if coronavirus travel restrictions stay in place throughout 2021, was laid out to Parliament

Golf clubs and businesses that rely on international visitors face an “increasingly bleak picture for summer 2021”, MPs have been told.

In an adjournment debate in the House of Commons, North East Fife MP Wendy Chamberlain urged the Government to commit to “supporting the golf industry, which relies so much on inbound international tourism”.

With new travel restrictions being imposed, aimed at preventing coronavirus cases coming in from abroad, and the prospect of domestic restrictions being lifted as the UK population is vaccinated, Chamberlain said: “We cannot on the one hand start opening up the economy domestically this summer, while on the other failing to provide support to those businesses that rely on inbound tourism.

“It would be a disaster for so many of them and would potentially devastate the domestic market too.”

Chamberlain, whose constituency includes St Andrews and who is also vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Golf, said up to 100 golf facilities attracted almost all overseas golf tourists to Scotland and generated at “least £300 million in revenues”.

“As the House can imagine, when the coronavirus pandemic hit, the impact on clubs, small business owners, the people of my constituency and other areas around Scotland and the UK where golf plays an important part was huge”.

Chamberlain called on the Government to implement a ‘deposit guarantee scheme’ to protect tour operators in the case of continued restrictions.

She also outlined the gaps in support schemes, which means that on the day service people; caddies, and other self-employed people are unlikely to see the impact of grant support.

Chamberlain added: “Golf tourism’s particular reliance on international tourism – and particularly on American tourists, who were subject to quarantine restrictions – meant that in effect the 2020 season was sadly over before it began.

“That has had a particular impact on inbound tour operators, many of which operate in my constituency. Last year, I organised a roundtable with the Scottish Incoming Golf Tour Operators Association (SIGTOA) and a number of local operators, and they told me of the difficulties they had faced over the previous months.

“One tour operator said to me: ‘As of yesterday and today, I have received two separate cancellations from Australian groups who had rescheduled from this year to 2021. Yet again this is a prime example that Golf Tourism and our businesses are being crippled, and will continue to be crippled, not just for six months but what is likely to be 18 to 24 months.’

“Another Fife-based company told me: ‘With nearly 40 years in package tourism, we have experienced a number of challenges as the business was affected by various national and international events. We simply battened down the hatches and worked through it all, using our own resources and never a penny piece of public money. Our company (as with those of our fellow operators) has proved very resilient – but Covid is stress-testing that resilience to breaking point.’

“The picture for them is pretty bleak.”

Replying to Chamberlain, Nigel Huddleston, the Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage, said that tourism and sport were devolved matters – meaning the devolved administrations were responsible for any “targeted policy intervention in their respective nations”.

But he reiterated the Government’s “commitment to reopening golf courses and other sports facilities as soon as the broader health situation allows”.

“To support the return of grassroots sport, including golf courses, the Government have supported businesses through unprecedented pan-economic measures, on top of the funding that Sport England has provided, which represents over £220 million in direct support for the sport and physical activity sector, with £35 million set aside as a community emergency fund,” he said.

“In addition, just yesterday Sport England published its strategy “Uniting the Movement”, as part of which it has committed an extra £50 million to help grassroots sports clubs and organisations affected by the pandemic.

“Further information on how to apply to those funds will be released shortly, and I am aware that similar funds are available in other parts of the country.”

Huddleston added: “Golf tourism is a hugely valuable activity, which supports a whole chain of tourism businesses and jobs.

“We will continue to engage with tourism sector stakeholders as we look into how we can most effectively support the inbound sector through covid and beyond, and we hope to share our tourism recovery plan in due course.”

He concluded: “I assure all hon. Members that the Government overall are listening and will continue to work with stakeholders on ideas further to support all strands of inbound tourism.”

Does your club rely on international visitors? Is your membership subsidised as a result? Let me know what the prospects are in the comments, or tweet me.

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Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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