By NEIL RIDDELL
The new tourism body set up to differentiate Shetland from the centralised “tartan and shortbread” image projected by VisitScotland has been given a nod of approval by the Scottish government.
The SIC last month agreed to divert the £450,000 budget it previously gave to VisitScotland to the new organisation, Promoting Shetland. At a meeting between convener Sandy Cluness, vice-convener Josie Simpson, MSP Tavish Scott, VisitScotland representatives and the Scottish government’s tourism minister Jim Mather in Edinburgh on Tuesday, the minister indicated that he was happy for the SIC to go ahead with its organisation.
Mr Scott welcomed what he said was a change of tack from the government and said he hoped the new “direct marketing organisation” would “work seamlessly to promote Shetland”, help attract would-be tourists and provide the right kind of visitor experience when they get here.
The council’s decision came amid concerns about the centralised approach of VisitScotland – which is presently focusing many of its activities on the Homecoming Scotland event later this year, based around Robert Burns, the clans and whisky. Shetland is staging its own Hamefarin in 2010.
The new organisation will remain at its existing premises at the Market Cross in Lerwick, but the council’s development committee decided to take action to make more of Shetland’s unique qualities and to move away from spending part of its budget on the promotion of tartan, whisky and Gaelic heritage.
Mr Scott said: “It’s a welcome change, which can allow Shetland to move forward on promoting tourism in a very much stronger manner than we’ve been able to achieve in the past. It’s very good news for local industry and puts the council in a strong position to co-ordinate tourism with the other industry objectives it has – it’s all to the good.”
Mr Cluness welcomed the response from Holyrood and said it would now be a case of working out the practical details of the new organisation in conjunction with VisitScotland. He said: “It’s more than tourism, marketing can be any industry that we have or marketing the islands themselves.”
Since Shetland took the decision to break away from VisitScotland, both Edinburgh and Glasgow, along with Aviemore, have followed suit and withdrawn their funding from VisitScotland in favour of setting up their own tourism bodies.
Work will now begin on how Promoting Shetland will be able to co-ordinate its activities with VisitScotland. The latter this week attempted to scotch suggestions that it had been deeply unhappy with the SIC over its decision to take tourism in-house.
VisitScotland’s head of strategic relations Ben Carter said it had been a very constructive meeting, adding that his organisation was keen to work “in a flexible way” with local authorities to ensure they provide services that work best in each individual region and ensure there is “no duplication of effort or wasted public money”.
He said: “It was clear from the meeting that Shetland Islands Council recognises the important role we play, and we look forward to working with them as we strive towards our shared goal of growing tourism revenues in Shetland. While the economy continues to bring challenges for tourism, it is more important than ever that we work together.”