Shetland does not boast enough about its assets, according to tourist boss Andy Steven who heads the new isles visitor organisation Promote Shetland.
The organisation was formed earlier this year to give Shetland more control over its visitor promotion, and is now committed to spending a large chunk of its £450,000 annual council funding in advertising Shetland as a place to visit, live, study or do business.
Promote Shetland, part of Shetland Amenity Trust, will market the isles as a distinct “brand” with its own logo and flag, instead of being under the umbrella of VisitScotland which promotes Scotland as a whole.
In a briefing to The Shetland Times this week about the body’s activities, Mr Steven said: “There is a fear of boasting [in Shetland] and we underplay tourism. We need to understand the value of our own products.”
Web cams, broadcast and social media such as YouTube are all being used to highlight what Shetland has to offer, not just in natural beauty and wildlife but in music, food and drink, archaeology and geology. Internet development will start immediately to refresh the current visitor websites, and there will be an additional online presence in niche markets such as Simon King Wildlife.
Printed literature and a promotional DVD should be ready by the spring – it is possible that the DVD could be attached to the current VisitScotland brochure. More could be done to distribute this material – Promote Shetland staff noticed recently there was no Shetland information in Orkney visitor centres.
A photo “image library” will be built up and a Shetland accommodation guide published.
As well as “direct marketing” through VisitScotland’s national or local campaigns, which Mr Steven said Promote Shetland would try to influence, the organisation will consider innovative ideas such as competition stickers on the back of Shetland products.
Media advertising is considered vitally important, and Promote Shetland already has advertisements on the back of Coast magazine and has appeared in FlyBe’s in-flight magazine. Mr Steven described this as “buying into a relationship” with FlyBe, and work is on-going with NorthLink and specialist holiday operators.
The tourist organisation also plans to target advertisements in outdoor magazines such as BBC Wildlife and the RSPB magazine.
In addition it has budgeted for visits by journalists and travel writers who could write articles about the isles.
Mr Steven said Promote Shetland could join forces with other companies or organisations in raising the overall profile of the isles. Grieg Seafood, for example, recently won an award for salmon pastrami – advertising for Shetland could be attached to publicity about the product. This could also be applied to other Shetland “ambassadors” – people who have “engaged” with Shetland (such as the crime writer Ann Cleeves whose recent quartet of novels were set in the isles) in order to create “subtle” messages about Shetland.
Promote Shetland has devoted a large proportion of its funding – around £100,000 – to the vital area of visitor information services at the Market
Cross office and at Sumburgh Airport, which it will “buy in” from VisitScotland. The first tranche of £50,000 has just been handed over.
Mr Steven regards “quality information” as crucial to the visitor experience, and crucial to the reputation of the tourism organisation. “VisitScotland have a basic service, I’ve agreed in the summer they should quote me for an enhanced service, we’re putting money in to uplift the service.”
It is important that the relationship with VisitScotland (of which VisitShetland is part and where the three employees of Promote Shetland used to work) is strengthened, Mr Steven said. “Both organisations clearly want to do their best for the place – Promote Shetland can’t go it alone.”
Feedback from visitors is also seen as an important factor in learning about tourism marketing. This will be invited from the web presence, and audio recordings of tourists talking about their visits (why they came here, what they liked and what they did not like) have been made. Mr Steven described attracting people to Shetland as “selling them a promise” and it was necessary to find out if expectations had been fulfilled. Most had mentioned the welcome of the Shetland people, but he was aware that the “power of the hosts” could make or break a holiday. Fortunately recordings were very positive, with one tourist saying she had never met such friendly people and another saying locals had gone out of their way to help her.
Other comments highlighted the remote natural appeal of the isles: “We saw seals but no people” and heard “the sound of silence”.
Promote Shetland has also allocated money amounting to nearly £20,000 for 20 trips per year between its three staff members to attend events and exhibitions where face to face contact is important.