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Bumper season for isles tourism

TOURISM operators in Shetland are reporting a better than average summer season despite ash from an Icelandic volcano disrupting flights early in the year and the recession putting the brakes on people’s travel plans.

Destination Shetland enjoyed a much needed boost in the form of Simon King’s wildlife diaries broadcast on the BBC earlier this year.

Other promotion campaigns saw Shetland featured in island archaeological treasure trails, in food publications, and also on haulage trailers driving up and down the country’s motorways.

The isles’ small tourism sector, which attracts around 20,000 holidaymakers a year plus another 20,000 visitors on board cruise liners, is represented by three tourism organisations – VisitShetland, Promote Shetland, and trades body Shetland Tourism Association (STA).

VisitShetland manager Steve Mathieson said that it was too early for concrete figures, but the general feeling was “that it has been a buoyant summer”.

“The overall impression is that business has been up compared to last year. This is a message that comes from all sectors – hotels, B&Bs, self-catering as well as tour operators,” he said.

Mr Mathieson said the islands were helped by the unattractive exchange rate and the volcanic ash keeping people in the UK, and “the Simon King factor”.

The upbeat message comes as VisitScotland’s new chairman Mike Cantlay visits the isles for the first time on Wednesday.

Mr Mathieson’s assessment was echoed by new STA chairman Joe Rocks, who runs Busta House Hotel, near Brae.

“During one of our regular meetings we did a quick call around the table to see how everyone felt about the season, and the result was that everyone felt that it was a somewhat better season and no one felt that it had been a lesser season.” Mr Rocks said.

The arrival of floating accommodation for oil workers in Lerwick had been widely welcomed by the industry as it freed up much needed bed space for holiday makers.

Meanwhile the association has entered into discussions with ferry operator NorthLink to improve the utilisation of the ferries’ limited cabin space.

Speaking about his own business, he said that this year’s increase in “leisure visitors” was very modest, but that was on the back of “a 16 per cent jump” last year.

Fetlar-based wildlife guide Brydon Thomason said he had had “a brilliant year”, suggesting the isles’ nature was its strongest selling point.

“Up until this year I have been concentrating on day trips, but this year we branched out to do a whole range of different package holidays. They all sold out and were a huge success.

“It has been just brilliant. There are already bookings coming in for next year and some tours are fully booked. It already looks very positive for 2011,” he said.

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021