The 45-strong Shetland Tourism Association (STA) will be central to successful growth in the isles, according to chairwoman Emma Miller, who addressed an audience covering a broad spectrum of the industry aboard the NorthLink ferry Hjaltland on Tuesday.
Miller said that the prime aim of the strategy was to grow business to around £33.5 million by 2023 and the STA, which only had 28 members last year, hoped to continue the strong growth in its membership seen over the last 12 months.
Miller said it was necessary to develop seasonal tourism into a year-round business.
She added: “We will work together to help make Shetland a year-round, sustainable tourism destination offering a unique and outstanding visitor experience”.
She said that collaboration with other agencies like VisitScotland, Promote Shetland, Shetland Islands Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and ZetTrans was crucial to delivering growth, as was the involvement of the grass roots tourism operators.
It is hoped the strategy can help continue the impressive growth in tourism which has seen leisure visitor numbers increase 43 per cent since 2013.
The strategy contains three priorities – the first of which was developing a strong industry led organisation, collaboration and sharing of industry “intelligence” and information.
Exploiting opportunities “in the best possible way” meant continuing with everything that has been successful while developing the low season, the rapidly growing cruise liner trade, festivals and events and Shetland’s UNESCO geopark status.
The need to develop niche markets, as had been so successful with the likes of Shetland Wool Week, was also necessary and needed the dedicated involvement of core people.
Central to everything was “enhancing the visitor experience” – something Shetland already scores highly on, with 90 per cent of visitors saying they would come again.
There was need to further develop digital promotion and information as well as the business tools that allowed quick and easy booking.
Centralising and pooling information on what was on and available in the isles also needs to be improved, said Miller.
VisitScotland’s Lesley Whitehill meanwhile outlined the importance of gathering accurate and detailed metrics on tourism and its requirements, something it had recently done in the 2017 visitor survey and in its Local Authority Tourism Industry Barometer.
Whitehill told the attendees that 2,500 exit interviews had been carried out in last year’s visitor surveys and this had yielded invaluable information. Ongoing surveys should provide the industry with further information on how to tailor and target their services to better meet tourist needs.
She said that visitors were spending more locally, averaging £317 per person, and that – along with the growth of visitor numbers – meant the sector was worth £23.21 million last year. People were spending more in Shetland than they were in Scotland overall.
Despite that, she said, visitors were looking for more support when planning their trips and this offered businesses a chance to get involved at an early stage.
The launch also gave the STA the opportunity to throw itself back into the spotlight. The organisation, founded in 2005, had been “fairly quiet” over the past few years, said Miller, who has been chairwoman for two years.
She said that any growth would need the support of the grass roots if it was to be successful and that the STA was the focal point for industry representation. She urged people involved in tourism to join in order to give a platform for their views and a tool to meet their requirements.
I want it to be fully representative of the industry in Shetland”, she said.
The organisation hopes to take on a part-time development officers early next year who will be responsible for a number of strings within the STA and be able to give people “a reason to be part of this”.