Scottish tourism leaders have denied that the controversial decision to release the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, will impact US tourism to the region.
HIT Scotland's chief executive David Cochrane said that while the initial reaction from the US tourism market to the Scottish Executive's decision to release al-Megrahi was "raw", people did not appear to be changing their plans to visit Scotland.
He said: "In the initial aftermath there was a knee-jerk emotional reaction from American tour operators and visitors, and there was some concern which manifested itself in phone calls fielded by VisitScotland. But the further away we've come, the more the hysteria has died down and the more things seem to be stabilising."
Cochrane cited VisitScotland‘s "Homecoming" campaign along with the favourable exchange rate as factors that would encourage continued bookings and added: "It's a matter of letting the country sell itself. Things have to be very dramatic for people to change or cancel a holiday."
Peter Lederer, chief executive of VisitScotland, said that he had seen no evidence yet of cancellations off the back of the political decision, but added that the situation was regrettable. "Obviously the USA is our largest overseas market and anything that affects tourism at a time like this is to be regretted," he told Caterer.
"But tourism has had a lot thrown at it from foot and mouth to SARS and swine flu - we've bounced back before. We've checked large groups and haven't noticed the change. We've seen no major evidence that it will impact on Scottish tourism but we'll be monitoring where the debate goes from here."
Eva McDiarmid, executive director of Scottish Visitor Attractions, commented: "I think we're going to have to look at how we try and reach that market in the future but I'm not convinced it's going to have a great effect. It may well put one or two people off on principle, but most people who come are part of the extended diaspora anyway."
But anecdotal evidence suggests these bodies might be over optimistic, with one Scottish operator telling Caterer that he'd already heard about an American golf tour which relocated their planned Scottish break to Ireland at the last minute because of the furore.
Daniel Rose Bristow, general manager of the Torridon hotel in Wester Ross, north-west Scotland, said that while his property had not yet seen a change, he'd heard that "there has been an effect with others."
Scottish retailers such as Walkers Shortbread and Harris Tweed, whose major market is the US, are preparing for a knock-on effect and admitted they may play down their national links in light of a US backlash from al-Megrahi's release.
By Rosie Birkett
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