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Community / Plenty to look forward to in 2023 tourist season, VisitScotland manager says

Tourism continues to be a growing industry in Shetland. Photo: Shetland News

SHETLAND can be “cautiously optimistic” about the forthcoming tourism season, according to VisitScotland’s Steve Mathieson.

It comes as the Shetland Tourism Association says visitor numbers are back to pre-pandemic levels.

Last summer saw the full return of international visitors following Covid restrictions, while events have also come back, with Up Helly Aa for example attracting many visitors from across the world in January.

Later this year the Tall Ships Races will be hosted in Lerwick in July, while the folk festival is set for late April. The cruise ship season is also expected to be busy.

VisitScotland’s development manager Steve Mathieson. Photo: VisitScotland

Mathieson said there will also “hopefully be an exciting week-long celebration based around food, drink and craft in the autumn”.

He said Shetland is fortunate to have “so many amazing attractions to offer visitors” in all corners of the isles.

“Our wildlife tour operators and guides were recently given a massive boost by the focus on Shetland in David Attenborough’s new BBC series ‘Wild Isles’,” Mathieson added.

“New attractions available to visitors include David Murray’s sheepdog handling skills, as part of the Shetland Rural Experience Centre, and the improved boardwalk and facilities at Hermaness.

“We are also looking forward to the opening of a new camping and campervan site at Asta as well as the newly-rebuilt Fair Isle Bird Observatory.

“Later in the year we are eagerly anticipating the first rocket launch at Saxavord Spaceport in Unst, which will herald a new era of space tourism to Shetland, while work continues on the possibility of creating a long-distance walking route to run the length of Shetland.”

Mathieson said “responsible tourism is at the heart of everything we do at VisitScotland”.

“Tourism must protect our cultural heritage, our attractions, events and activities that make Scotland unique,” he added.

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Meanwhile the Shetland Tourism Association said in its recruitment for a new development worker that visitor numbers have “increased significantly over this past year and now exceed pre-pandemic levels”.

It is seeking an “organised, self-motivated and enthusiastic individual to support and grow our members as we work to identify and address the challenges and opportunities ahead”.

Over in the Scottish Parliament, there has been concern that there is no longer a tourism minister in the Scottish Government following Humza Yousaf’s promotion to first minister.

Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston said it was a “shameful decision”.

He is unhappy that there is instead a role focused on campaigning for independence.

“Scotland is a world-renowned destination and Scotland’s tourism industry is one of Scotland’s most significant sectors,” Halcro Johnston said.

“That is particularly true here in the Highlands and Islands, where tourism supports thousands of jobs and livelihoods in communities across the region.

“But that fact seems to be lost on Humza Yousaf and the SNP, and this shameful decision to cut the tourism minister role sends entirely the wrong message to the sector and to those who have worked tirelessly over the last few years to rebuild it after the difficulties of the pandemic.”

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