Nicola Sturgeon has apologised to businesses for poor communication of last-minute lockdown changes as tourism chiefs said her government had failed to provide "the support and clarity that we need".
The First Minister told the National Economic Forum that she was "genuinely sorry" her SNP administration had failed to meet the needs of employers by telling them about changes to restrictions "at very short notice".
She told dozens of business leaders who dialled in for the online conference that "we will continue to strive to do better" as lockdown is eased over the coming weeks.
However, a business backlash intensified on Wednesday against her decision to extend the current restrictions by at least an extra three weeks to July 19, so more people can be vaccinated.
The Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC) said around a third of its members are operating at reduced capacity, 16 per cent simply breaking even, and a further 16 per cent are financially non-viable despite being open.
A separate survey by the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA) found nine out of 10 attractions are not recovering from the pandemic, and fewer than one in four are operating at an economically sustainable level.
Nearly half (46 per cent) said they feared their attractions will be non-viable if physical distancing and international travel restrictions persist beyond the end of this month.
Meanwhile, six tourism groups involved in the cruise ship industry wrote an open letter to SNP ministers over their "puzzling and disappointing" ban on vessels docking in Scotland.
The groups, which included the Cruise Lines International Association, Barrhead Travel Group, the Scottish Passenger Agents Association and the UK Chamber of Shipping, said the sector was a "major contributor" to the economy and had developed onshore safety protocols.
Their letter came after a cruise ship on a domestic tour last week, and carrying only fully vaccinated and tested UK passengers, was barred from docking in Scotland.
Official figures published on Wednesday showed Scotland’s GDP fell by 1.9 per cent in real terms in the first three months of this year, compared to a 1.5 per cent drop for the UK as a whole.
The worst hit sectors were distribution, hotels and catering and government services. However, Scotland’s 5.4 per cent drop in GDP over the previous year was lower than the 6.1 per cent fall experienced across the entire UK.
Ms Sturgeon told the forum the "whole of the last 15 months has been really difficult and really disruptive", adding that "many people have had to keep businesses closed for extended periods of time".
The First Minister acknowledged the pandemic had "placed a strain on our relationship with business" amid widespread concern that her lockdown decisions fail to take sufficient account of economic considerations.
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She cited her decision last month to keep Glasgow under Level 3 restrictions for longer, meaning pubs and restaurants could not serve alcohol indoors, arguing the move was necessary to protect public health.
Although she insisted her government had tried "incredibly hard" to communicate with business, she said: "I know the nature of what we have been dealing with has meant that at times you have felt that communication has not met your needs."
Ms Sturgeon added: "I’m genuinely sorry about that, and I want to reassure you that we will continue to strive to do better.”
But Fiona Campbell, the ASSC chief executive, said the new surveys "across the length and breadth of Scottish tourism show one thing very clearly: important parts of our sector are falling through cracks in the Scottish Government’s response to COVID-19."
Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government had tried 'incredibly hard' to be clear with businesses
Credit: Jane Barlow/Getty Images
She added: "While those of us in self-catering, alongside our colleagues in the other parts of Scotland’s tourism offering, have done everything we can to help the national effort against this virus, we simply have not had the support and clarity that we need."
Gordon Morrison, ASVA chief executive, said: "Our latest survey has confirmed that Scotland’s attractions sector is on its knees and desperately needs additional and significant financial support."
Liz Smith, the Scottish Tories’ Shadow Finance Secretary, said the GDP figures showed "there is a real risk of a prolonged recession".
She said: "Businesses across Scotland are crying out for much better engagement from the SNP government."