Tourism chiefs predicted that hundreds of Scottish businesses would be able to reopen under plans to ease social distancing rules.
The hard-hit sector welcomed Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that “exemptions” to the 2m social distancing rule could be agreed for hospitality, retail and public transport operators.
On the islands, the move raised hopes among relieved tourist operators that ferry services could soon return to full capacity.
Rob McKinnon, of Outer Hebrides Tourism, said: “Islands have felt excluded from the reopening of the tourism season on July 15 because of the social distancing so this is an important part of the puzzle and it is good they seem to have found a safe way of getting people on ferries.
“Hopefully this will make it worthwhile for businesses to open this summer.
“Had the social distancing measures stayed in place, we would probably have only got about 20% of the visitors we normally get and that is not enough for a lot of people to open.
“We are already seeing restaurants closing in Stornoway.”
Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) chief executive Marc Crothall said the announcement was “the news that the industry has been eagerly anticipating”.
He added: “The recent research that the STA undertook revealed that the majority of businesses in the tourism sector would be economically unsustainable if the two-metre physical distancing rule remained.
“Today’s news will mean that many hundreds of businesses that had not planned to reopen may now reconsider and plan to do so.”
Moray Chamber of Commerce chief executive Sarah Medcraf also believed that relaxing the two-metre rule would represent “a big step towards helping the sector”.
However, she added: “We need to ensure that businesses do not feel obliged to do one way or another and they do what is right for their business and layout.
“This has never been about pounds before people, but many of the business models simply don’t survive on two-metre rules.
“We need to trust the businesses to make the most informed choice and consumers need to respect their decision and take responsibility for themselves.
“This collective effort will support the industry when it needs it most.”
Chris Foy, VisitAberdeenshire CEO, said: “The first minister’s announcement brings some good news to the local tourism sector. However, the season is starting three months late for many and there is an urgent need to recoup what they can of the remainder of the summer. Otherwise many will face the financial equivalent of three successive winter seasons by the time the 2021 season comes around.
“We’re hearing reports of strong demand for self-catering accommodation options in the region already, which gives a good indication that there is an appetite to visit the region.”