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Business / Concern growing over impact of decision to close Lerwick tourist office

LERWICK Port Authority (LPA) has added its voice of concern to the growing number of organisations and individuals critical of VisitScotland’s decision to close all of its tourist offices, including the one at Lerwick’s Market Cross.

Meanwhile VisitScotland has confirmed that four members of staff at the Lerwick centre will be affected by the move which will happen before March 2026.

Staff have been offered a range of options including reskilling, redeployment and voluntary redundancies.

The national tourism agency has also confirmed that according to its own analysis a full island communities impact assessment into the closures of eight island based so-called iCentres will not be required.

A ‘screening assessment’ published at the VisitScotland website found “no evidence to suggest the effect on an island community is significantly different from the effect on other communities”.

The LPA’s cruise and marketing manager Melanie Henderson said that against the backdrop of increasing visitor numbers closing the tourist office in the centre of town was “disappointing news” and a “concern for the Shetland tourism network”.

“The warmth of welcome visitors receive creates a lasting impact and is a crucial factor in encouraging enjoyable and repeat visits and longer stays,” she said.

“[Lerwick Port] Authority has for many years recognised the importance in providing a dedicated meet-and-greet team on the quaysides for cruise visitors and our reception at Albert Building also receives hundreds of yacht crew visitors in a season – both complemented by the contribution from the iCentre.

“The announcement means Shetland’s valued local information network will become even more vital in ensuring visitors are given the welcome they expect.”

With a record cruise season expected, the port said as many as 130,000 visitors are set to disembark from the 149 ships booked to call at Lerwick this year.

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There has been an unprecedented response to this story when it broke yesterday with almost 400 comments on our Facebook page, which can be viewed below.

VisitScotland meanwhile said its most recent footfall figures for the Lerwick iCentre refer to the 2022/23 season, during which 41,274 visitors through the door were recorded. This, the agency said, represented a 27 per cent decline compared to 2019/2020.

A spokesperson for the agency said VisitScotland would continue to have regional roles based in Shetland, including a development manager.

“We continue to deliver business support, with a team available to help and a huge range of advice on our website,” she said.

“We are also beginning work with stakeholders and industry representatives to consider our future digital-first programme of business advice and support.

“Through our marketing, we ensure Scotland is discoverable in the channels visitors are using and we will continue to promote Shetland in our marketing activities.”

Highlands and Islands Conservative Jamie Halcro Johnston.

Meanwhile, Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston, an islander himself, linked the programme of closures to Scottish Government budget cuts.

The government’s 2024/25 budget appears to suggest £47 million has been pledged to “tourism” – down from £52.7 million in 2023/24.

“Given the key role tourism plays right across the Highlands and Islands, these centres serve as crucial touchpoints for visitors, providing invaluable assistance and guidance as tourists explore our communities,” he said.

“These planned closures coincide with the Scottish Government in Edinburgh slashing funding for VisitScotland, and it’s clear that the impact of these budget cuts is now being felt in critical sectors of our economy.”

In response, VisitScotland said: “Consumer behaviour and the needs of businesses have changed, particularly since Covid and in increasing digital world.

“It’s important we adapt our own activities to reflect this. VisitScotland has an excellent track record of evolving and this is the next stage in that evolution.”

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