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Business / STA stresses the value of tourism for Shetland after tourist office closure announcement

STA chair Amanda Hawick: tourist office could be 'a real community hub'. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

FOLLOWING VisitScotland’s announcement to close the tourist office in Lerwick, Shetland Tourism Association (STA) has stressed the importance of tourism for the islands’ economy.

The tourist centre at the Market Cross is one of 25 centres in Scotland set to close by March 2026 as VisitScotland becomes ‘fully digital’.

The announcement was made as part of greater changes in how VisitScotland promotes tourism across the country.

According to the chair of Shetland Tourism Association (STA), Amanda Hawick, the local industry organisation has been engaging with and receiving feedback from its members, and should contact VisitScotland headquarters to understand when the Lerwick office will be closing.

However, no communication or negotiation on timeframes has been put forward by VisitScotland yet.

“VisitScotland seem to be fairly reluctant to discuss this with any party at all, which we find very, very disappointing,” Hawick said.

“We consider this to be quite counterproductive for achieving a seamless takeover from when the office closes to when someone else possibly comes into it.”

As local concern is growing, VisitScotland stated: “We have proposed a two-year phased closure programme. This takes into consideration issues such as staffing and leasing. At this stage, and as conversations with key local stakeholders progress, we recognise that this may change for some sites.

“As such, we will provide an update on individual closure dates for sites once this has been officially agreed with relevant local stakeholders. We expect all iCentres to close by the end of March 2026.”

Lerwick tourist office to close as VisitScotland goes fully digital

Regarding this lack of information, Hawick claimed that these circumstances are sending out a lot of negative messages for tourism in Shetland.

“VisitScotland has made it very clear that there is no negotiation, but they have to understand that this is one of the busiest visitor centres in Scotland,” she pointed out.

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“Just a couple of Sundays ago, there were 820 people in there.

“We’ve found that very, very little backing has come to support a massive tourism sector in Shetland, that makes up a lot of small businesses’ profits.”

Hawick also highlighted the need to think about a sustainable future and build a place where bairns can come back to live and work in Shetland after leaving for university, which may also help increase the islands’ population.

“It’s absolutely key to industry, tourism, local excursions, tours and more that this centre does not close. It is vitally important for Shetland”, she continued.

The chair of the STA is confident that the association would be able to carry on running the visitor centre as “a real community hub”, selling Shetland products and engaging with the crafting community, whilst many from the STA’s growing membership are fully supportive of keeping the office from closing.

“We need everybody to join the Shetland Tourism Association so we can get our voice heard. It does not matter if it’s a hotel, a guesthouse, a garage or a café on the street: everyone is involved,” Hawick highlighted.

“The message I really want to get out there is that we need everybody onboard and we all have to come together for tourism. Tourism is everybody’s business.”

Anyone interested in joining the association can write to info@shetlandtourismassociation.org or fill out a form here.

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