Shetland Life History: Past Times

From The Shetland Times, Friday 12th September, 1958

The things some people ask

What questions do people ask at an information centre? Reporting to the executive committee of Shetland Tourist Association, the information officer at Lerwick, Mr Lindsay Robertson, mentions two enquiries – one complicated, the other comical.

As an example of the time and trouble required to deal with some visitors, Mr Robertson cites the case of two French tourists who spoke practically no English. They wanted to know train timings from Aberdeen to Kyle of Lochalsh, bus times from Inverness to Fort William, trains from Fort William to Mallaig – and the fares! Says Mr Robertson: “I am glad to report that with the aid of timetables, maps, diagrams and a smattering of French, the job was satisfactorily accomplished.”

On the other hand, two rather excited ladies called to find out the name of the bird “that goes ‘wheep, wheep’ in the middle of the night”! And a third request was for “A short history of the rise and fall of the herring industry from 1900 to date.”

Mr Robertson says that between May and the end of August between 700 and 750 people were interviewed at the centre. Accommodation was found for 201 people who either wrote or called.

The report opens with an acknowledgement of the work done last year by Mr P. J. Henry, who compiled the register of accommodation and collated transport information. The period covered is from January, when the Tourist Association took over from the Chamber of Commerce, to the end of August. In that period 1302 letters have gone out from the office.

Of these letters, 600 were typed by local businessmen and their staffs – replies to the first batch of letters in response to an article in the Sunday Express. After this Mr Thomas Johnston, the town clerk, kindly duplicated a standard letter on association notepaper. Mr Robertson says it would have been impossible to cope without this. Since 15th May he has had part-time clerical assistance.

In all 1030 answers were sent to first enquiries, plus 77 letters dealing with unusual queries – some running to two or more pages; 70 letters regarding accommodation, and 124 containing guidebooks. Enquiries came from all over the world, including Hong-Kong, Singapore, Baghdad, California, New York and many countries in Europe. Mr Robertson notes that the bulk of this correspondence had to be done on Sundays and after hours, and he mentions that his clerk, Mr Hunter, has also given a lot of his spare time to this work.

On the question of accommodation, Mr Robertson says his report was written at the time the Wool Secretariat conference was on. “This, of course, is the peak of the season but I still have some accommodation available,” he says. But he adds the opinion that 1958 has not been a good tourist year and urges that more accommodation be found for another season.

Mr Robertson says the North of Scotland Shipping Company wrote on two occasions when passengers had cancelled reservations because they could not obtain accommodation. This, he points out, was not the Association’s fault – they knew nothing about it till after the cancellations. Mr Robertson says: “The North of Scotland offered no constructive suggestions and I detect a faint ‘I told you so’ attitude in their letters. As the carrying of passengers between Aberdeen and Lerwick without berths is reaching astronomical proportions, it would appear they have a much larger accommodation problem than we do.”


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