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Community / Live broadcasts planned as fire festivals return

May Graham's photo for Promote Shetland from the Scalloway Fire Festival earlier this year.

PROMOTE Shetland is to mark the welcome return of the islands’ winter fire festivals – including next week’s Up Helly Aa in Lerwick – with live broadcasts and a wide range of coverage across its platforms.

The fire festival season generates huge interest in Shetland from all over the world and, after Covid prevented any events going ahead in 2021 and 2022, the first event of the year was held in Scalloway earlier this month.

Things will ramp up with the much anticipated return of Lerwick’s Up Helly Aa on Tuesday.

Promote Shetland, which aims to build the islands’ reputation as a place to live, work, study, visit and invest, has now upgraded its dedicated website uphellyaa.com.

Live coverage of the Lerwick torchlit procession, provided by Shetland Webcams and supported by NorthLink Ferries, will be streamed from 7pm on Tuesday (31 January) on that site and Promote Shetland’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

There will also be a live broadcast of the South Mainland Up Helly Aa (SMUHA), which takes place on Friday 10 March this year. While most fire festivals had occurred prior to the pandemic in 2020, this is set to be the first SMUHA since March 2019.

Promote Shetland has updated and enhanced the content and information about all 12 of Shetland’s fire festivals on its website. A new three-minute promotional video, featuring a voiceover from Shetland actor Steven Robertson, has also been published.

Four film shorts from the Scalloway Fire Festival have been viewed over 10,000 times on Promote Shetland’s newly launched TikTok channel, in addition to over 100,000 views on Instagram.

Promote Shetland’s head of content Adam Civico said the organisation’s reach on all social media platforms had already increased sharply after it launched a season-long fire festival campaign early in the new year.

Civico said previous live broadcasts had proved exceedingly popular and Promote Shetland’s social media reach is expected to continue growing, cementing the fire festivals’ status as one of the most effective tools for marketing the islands worldwide.

“Promote Shetland is excited to be able to give viewers who are unable to be there in person the opportunity to experience all the drama, fun, enjoyment, atmosphere and tradition that our fire festivals provide,” he said.

“The passion among organisers, guizers and spectators alike about the return of these much-treasured events is there for all to see. Their absence has been sorely felt over the last two winters, and that is because of the way they bring communities together for nights of socialising, guizing, torchlit processions, feasting and dancing the night away.”

Civico added: “The spectacle of fire festival season gives us the perfect opportunity to celebrate the huge community effort, with a coordinated multi-channel campaign.

“This should help increase valuable tourism through the quieter winter months and provide long-lasting and meaningful benefits.”

VisitScotland’s Shetland development manager Steve Mathieson said it was “fantastic” to welcome back the fire festivals after a three-year hiatus.

“Lerwick Up Helly Aa is an internationally-acclaimed event that attracts visitors from across the globe,” he said, “while the other rural festivals that take place across the isles between January and March each year are all amazing spectacles and a great way for tourists to integrate more intimately with the activities of the individual Shetland communities.”

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