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Business / Visitors will come back, says tourism boss

St Ninian's Isle. Photo: VisitScotland

TOURISM in Shetland is in a strong position to bounce back once Covid-19 crisis is over, according to VisitScotland’s local island manager.

Steven Mathieson was speaking after the national tourism organisation published the findings of it 2019 Shetland visitor survey on Wednesday morning.

The survey found that the local industry had grown in value to the economy by more than 50 per cent to £35.8 million compared to 2017.

A total of 80,128 people (excluding those arriving on cruise ships) visited Shetland last year with half of those coming to the isles for leisure purposes.

More than 3,000 face-to-face interviews were carried out at the isles’ key entry and exit points at Sumburgh Airport as well as the Holmsgarth ferry terminal. These were followed up by 464 online surveys.

Mathieson said he was particularly pleased by the positive feedback leisure visitors gave with 94 per cent rating their Shetland experience with a score of eight, nine or 10 out of 10 and 59 per cent giving it the highest score.

“The tourism industry in Shetland, like everywhere else in Scotland, has been completely devastated by the coronavirus, however, the encouraging results from the visitor survey show us how successful tourism has been in the past in Shetland and will undoubtedly help inform us of how recovery here might look and how we can aim to get back to that place again,” he said.

“The findings of this latest visitor survey are very positive. Shetland is renowned for its wildlife and stunning scenery, unique culture, archaeology, arts and music. People flock here to see this for themselves and I am confident they will again, but it will take time.

“It is encouraging to see from the survey that 72% of our visitors come from either Scotland or the UK. Once restrictions are eased, these will be the people who will return first to visit us, as international visitors will take longer to return to overseas travel again.”

The survey was commissioned by Shetland Islands Council. Its acting executive manager for economic development Thomas Coutts said the finding will help shape Shetland’s coronavirus recovery plan.

“We are clearly in an extremely difficult time for the national and local visitor economies, and our local tourism businesses are suffering hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown,” he said.

“However, my feeling is that the results of this report will help point the way towards some measure of recovery – there is a great deal of information in this survey showing the things we were doing right, including productive and positive social media campaigns, and the success of local businesses in developing high quality products and services for the visitor economy.

“Collective efforts to develop our offer to visitors led to such a positive experience in 2019, and we need to look at the lessons from this survey so that when the time is right we can look to regroup and grow the sector again, building on the things which make Shetland so special and so welcoming to visitors.”

More detailed information on the visitor survey can be found at: https://www.visitscotland.org/research-insights/regions/shetland