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Business / Tourism sector looks ahead to busy summer season

Photo: Shetland News

SHETLAND is shaping up to have a “very busy” tourist season this summer in a what would be a huge boost to the beleaguered industry.

Shetland Tourism Association chair Jolene Garriock said accommodation providers are reporting strong bookings not only for this year, but 2023 too.

But there are continued concerns over the hospitality sector’s ability to recruit staff.

As Covid restrictions continue to be relaxed there is a hope that this summer could be the year that the tourist industry comes back in force.

Lerwick Port Authority for instance has a packed cruise ship diary, with more than 100 calls in the schedule.

The cruise sector in Scotland suffered a 17-month suspension due to the pandemic before reopening in July last year.

Events are also starting to return, such as the internationally renowned folk festival in the spring, while the Tall Ships Races will provide a boon in 2023.

Another rather unconventional draw for tourists could be satellite launches from the SaxaVord Spaceport in Unst, which are in line to begin later this year and are expected to attract visitors.

Garriock also runs tour company Island Vista, and she is almost at capacity for this coming season.

“I have even had to turn away a couple of bookings,” she said.

Jolene Garriock.

“I know car hire bookings are strong and I’ve also heard reports of groups postponing until 2023 as they can’t get accommodation and travel for the dates they want this year.

“If it comes to pass, it will be a really busy summer.”

She did strike a note of caution, however, over the situation in Ukraine following the invasion of Russian troops at the end of February.

There have been reports of people from Australia and the US for instance deciding against travelling to the UK due to worries over the repercussions that the war could have for the rest of Europe.

“I haven’t heard this happen in Shetland yet, but I know some of my Scottish mainland counterparts have already lost some overseas bookings because of the situation in Ukraine,” Garriock said.

“We’ll just have to watch this space.”

Meanwhile, the owner of the Lerwick, Shetland and Kveldsro hotels said he expects the 2022 season to be a busy one.

Robert Smith, who runs the Brudolff hotel company, warned however that the ability to cope with a busy season will be “severely hampered” by a shortage of staff.

He said this is a key factor “for us, for others in Shetland, but also for the hospitality industry country wide”.

Shetland Hotel. Photo © Mike Pennington (cc-by-sa/2.0)

It is an issue which is no stranger to Shetland, with some hotels temporarily cutting service last year as a result.

“We can no longer recruit from Europe, leaving us very short,” Smith continued.

“Unless or until the London government recognise the need for dispensations for recruiting staff from abroad, the problem will not go away.

“They did offer a dispensation for the fruit picking industry, with 10,000 seasonal workers allowed to come to the UK; until they recognise the need in this industry, there will always be shortages.”

Smith also took aim at the Scottish Government for the issue of business rate rebates and relief, stating that companies in England get it better off.

“The Edinburgh government could do much more to assist the hospitality industry over the next 12 months, but seem hell bent on other agendas,” he said.

“So in summary, yes, a good season is expected in Shetland, and we look forward to welcoming and looking after our visitors – but the realities of short staffing and lack of government incentives moving into year three of Covid somewhat tempers our enthusiasm.”

Meanwhile Loganair chief executive Jonathan Hinkles said the airline is expecting summer traffic to be within 10 per cent of summer 2019 levels.

For the first time since the pandemic the Sumburgh to Bergen service will start on 17 May, running to 20 August, while a one-plane Shetland-Dundee-London flight will start in early May.