Scotland Fears Tourism, Trade Fallout from Lockerbie Row

EDINBURGH ~ As the dust settles from a political row sparked by Scotland’s release of the Lockerbie bomber, the country is nervously bracing for potentially more damaging fallout from a threatened US boycott.

A website, www.boycottscotland.com, is urging Americans to avoid travelling to Scotland or buying British and Scottish products in revenge for the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds last week.

“We understand the emotions are running high. We’ve had some emails saying they’re going to cancel their trips,” said a spokeswoman for Visit Scotland, the country’s tourism agency.

The devolved Scottish government’s decision to free the only person convicted for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie has sparked a furious response from the US government.

And now tourism and business leaders are anxiously waiting to see if US consumers react by taking their dollars elsewhere.

“Americans need to respond to this outrageous miscarriage of justice and betrayal of the victims’ families, who were mostly fellow Americans, by refusing to spend their tourist dollars in Scotland and avoiding any kind of business there,” says the website.

The site’s origins are unknown but it is likely aimed at the hundreds of thousands of Americans who flock to Scotland each year to enjoy the scenery and culture, play golf and sample the local whisky.

Last year they spent £260 million (US$425 million) here – one fifth of the total overseas tourist spend in Scotland, according to the Visit Scotland tourism body.

Asked if the tourism body is concerned by the boycott threat, the spokeswoman said “absolutely,” while conceding that they had not yet actually seen evidence of cancellations, just plans to do so.

Holiday firms are also monitoring the situation, with one businessman saying he believes the boycott has already cost him one booking.

Duncan Dewar set up Best of Scotland Holidays in 1983, providing golfing and other holidays across Britain and Ireland, and says Americans now make up 70 percent of his clients.

“It is concerning. I think we can contribute one cancellation for next year. They did not give us a reason but it sounds rather coincidental. They just said they were not coming to Scotland in 2010,” he said.

However, he said it was too soon to gauge the real impact as most holidays this year were booked and paid for.

The Scottish CBI, which represents 26,000 businesses in Scotland, said there could be a knock-on effect on business links with the United States but said any negative impact would likely be short term.

“There may be some sort of risk to tourism and business links between Scotland and America, but we have not been inundated by members coming to us with reports or concerns,” said assistant director David Lonsdale.

Meanwhile the Scotch Whisky Association said it was monitoring any possible impact on exports to the United States, which were worth £370 million last year – 10 percent of Scotch whisky exports worldwide.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has sought to play down any economic impact, saying in an interview on Sunday: “Many, many things appear in the blogosphere, but what we’re talking about is the real world.”

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