By LOUISE THOMASON
The council took control of marketing Shetland as a tourism destination this week amid grave concerns about the centralised approach of the national body VisitScotland.
A new unit, to be named Promoting Shetland, will take over the role of providing a locally-tailored message to potential visitors from VisitScotland, although that organisation’s visitor information point at the Market Cross in Lerwick and other services, including market research, accommodation grading and international marketing, will be unaffected.
VisitScotland’s major campaign at the moment is for the Homecoming Scotland event later this year, which is based around Robert Burns, the clans and whisky. Shetland has its own Haemfarin in 2010.
At the Full Council this week, councillors approved the withdrawal of £450,000 hitherto given to VisitScotland, which will be used to fund the new unit. It will undertake local marketing, the running of the neighbourhood information points and the co-ordination of publicity.
The main impetus behind the decision was, councillors said, understanding that Shetland’s strength comes from its difference to the rest of Scotland. National tourism campaigns, therefore, often have little or no relevance to the isles.
In a report, head of economic development Neil Grant observed: “We don’t have a clan culture, tartan, whisky and Gaelic heritage. We have no major golf courses, cannot be easily included in a short break or long weekend to Scotland and can only be reached from the mainland by relatively expensive air links or a 14 hour ferry crossing.”
Development committee chairman councillor Josie Simpson said: “Everyone is agreed that Shetland offers different attractions and a unique range of products. “We think those differences are a strength, and we don’t want them to be masked or diluted. In an age of global commerce, it’s even more important that Shetland’s unique qualities are both preserved and promoted. “I think this new body will help secure our position in the market and it will allow us to gain more benefit from the very valuable marketing work that’s being done in Shetland by local businesses, a number of local agencies and the council.”
Convenor Sandy Cluness said there was a lack of understanding in centralised bodies that smaller areas were often in competition with each other and that he had experience of nationwide tourist bodies being less favoured in areas of Norway, among others.
After seeking legal advice and discussions with the Scottish government, VisitScotland and areas who already work under a similar scheme, it was agreed the group will be set up immediately and with a similar budget to the one previously paid to VisitScotland.
There are also plans for Promoting Shetland to have a database, which will hold people who have expressed an interest in the isles, as well as an image archive to be used for publications. Importance is also being placed on the linking of local industries to ensure that all are promoted equally.
A VisitScotland spokeswoman said: “VisitScotland is looking forward to hearing more about Promoting Shetland’s plans. With more countries than ever before competing in the global tourist marketplace there is a need for those involved in the tourism industry to work collaboratively for the common good of tourism which will ensure Shetland is promoted as the quality must-see, must-return destination it is.”