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Outer Hebrides Tourism has swung into action to prepare for a reopening of the tourism season, following Tuesday’s announcement from the First Minister on the easing of travel restrictions around Scotland.

The change of regulations announced this week will mean that visitors from England and Wales, as well as mainland Scotland, can come to the islands.

International leisure travel into Scotland, including the islands, is not permitted and may not resume until at least 17 May.

The tourism organisation is urging accommodation providers, attraction managers and visitors alike to work with tolerance, caution and mutual respect to make sure that island communities are not adversely affected by the return of tourism.

The OHT website has updated advice to visitors, including a strong message urging continued respect and consideration for the islands as they return.

The website says: “We are really looking forward to welcoming you to back to the Outer Hebrides. From 26 April, accommodation, restaurants and pubs will be able to open, but will be subject to restrictions relating to group size, social distancing and general hospitality regulations.

“CalMac ferries’ summer timetable will commence from 26 April, but this will be subject to social distancing and therefore there will be restrictions on capacity. 

“We urge you to follow the Scottish Government guidelines. By following official guidance, you’re playing your part in helping keep our community safe.

“Our regular visitors will understand how special our islands are. It is with a heavy heart that we say some visitors didn’t get this message in 2020. 

“By choosing to visit us, you are committing to showing respect for our communities and environment throughout your stay.”

OHT plans to update their website with accurate and up-to-the-minute advice on what attractions and services are open. To that end, they’ve launched a survey here for service providers to give latest information about their re-opening plans.

The deadline for submitting information to the survey is Sunday 18 April, to allow for a re-launch of the website ahead of restrictions lifting on 26 April.

Rob McKinnon, chief executive of OHT, has also written to members urging them to maintain safe protocols and to urge their visitors to do the same.

He said: “This is a key step in life returning to normal and is just as important for people who want to reconnect with friends and family on the mainland as it is for the tourism industry here in the Outer Hebrides.  

“It isn't the end of the road though, and it will take time for businesses to recover from the restrictions over the past twelve months, but businesses can at last plan for the season ahead.

“Although travel is permitted, many regulations still remain. It is essential that cleaning protocols are maintained, records of guests and diners are kept and party size is respected - currently six people from two households, and rising gradually as we go down through the levels.  

“We did a great job last year in operating safely and please let's carry that forward into next year.

“We know there is strong demand to visit the islands, but please do stress with your visitors how important it is that they treat the islands and the communities with respect at all times.  Encourage them to be patient with people who are serving them under challenging conditions.

“Let's all work together to avoid some of the unpleasant issues which occurred last year.  Getting them to support local businesses is not a bad idea either.

“We thank the Comhairle, Scottish Tourism Alliance, friends in other islands, and other partners who worked with us to achieve this result. We would also like to thank you all for your letters and emails to MSP and councillors. Thankfully the Scottish Government has listened and it shows the power of working together.  

“We should also thank the health authorities, volunteers, and others that have helped deliver the vaccine programme that has made this possible and will hopefully ensure we continue to win the battle with COVID-19.”