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Community / Amenity trust chief not expecting tourist market for year and a half

The Sumburgh Head lighthouse and visitor centre, which reopened in 2014 after a £5.4 million refurbishment. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland NewsThe Sumburgh Head lighthouse and visitor centre, which reopened in 2014 after a £5.4 million refurbishment. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

THE OPERATOR of the Shetland Museum and Archives and other sites like the Sumburgh Head visitor centre is anticipating the tourism market to be at a standstill for the next 18 months.

Shetland Amenity Trust chief executive Mat Roberts believes as a result of the coronavirus crisis the majority of the organisation’s market in the medium term will be people already living in the isles.

The trust’s sites have been closed since March, and while its management have begun looking ahead to what its reopening phase might look like, Roberts does not expect much tourism for well over a year as people chose not to travel when routes reopen.

“I think for the next 18 months at least almost our only market will be the 23,000 people who live in Shetland,” he said.

“I don’t think we’re going to see a lot of inbound. We have to work out how do we do that, but we’re not alone.

“We have to understand that a big part of our footfall and our engagement is with people who are coming in on holiday – the cruise market, the independent traveller market.”

There is also a feeling that an assumption that the trust’s buildings and sites would remain closed to customers for the whole of 2020 may have been “overly pessimistic”.

Roberts said he is now more optimistic, with the trust waiting on word from the UK and Scottish governments.

He added that it is “important for us to deliver on our commitments to our core customers, to open our sites as soon as possible”.

With the trust – which has furloughed 32 staff – receiving annual funding from the Shetland Charitable Trust and Shetland Islands Council, Roberts said income from its sites is important to “justify the generous support that we get from the people of Shetland’s money”.

The amenity trust, meanwhile, is looking ahead to what the ‘new normal’ may be when coronavirus restrictions are relaxed.

Roberts has been impressed with the reach of the trust’s online offerings to the public during the pandemic, which could be an avenue to further explore, while home working and video conferencing has also worked well.

The chief executive said a working group launched this week is designed to look at “how we reopen, what do we need to do to reopen safely and securely for our customers and our staff and how we do social distancing” – with one-way systems and hand washing on the agenda.