This year’s tourist season has got off to a good start and could be the best ever, according to tourism chiefs.
Visit Shetland boss Steve Mathieson said the season promises to be very good, especially with the emphasis on holidays in this country (helped in part by last year’s ash cloud).
Mr Mathieson said of the developing season: “It’s looking pretty buoyant. One of the things Visit Scotland [of which Visit Shetland is part] has been pushing is staycations. We did a direct mail initiative with Promote Shetland to 30,000 people who made inquiries. Shetland has a wealth of things to see and do for both tourists and locals.”
He cited July’s Nature Festival and Geopark Week as some of the season’s highlights, with the Tall Ships visit the “focal point” of the whole tourism year. The temporary accommodation scheme offering beds to people coming to see the Tall Ships is still ongoing, he said – anyone wanting to get involved should register at the tourist office. There is no fee and no checks will be made.
Mr Mathieson also said tour operators, such as those offering boat trips, had reported “healthy” bookings, feedback from hotels, B&Bs and self-catering accommodation providers had been “positive” and there were new special interest activities to interest the visitor.
Sea angling in Shetland has been shown on Sky TV, and this year, for the first time, Shetland’s gardens are listed in the prestigious Yellow Book of gardens open to the public for charity.
Gardens from the South Mainland to URGE in Unst are featured and with a record number of cruise ships and the prospect of Mareel later in the year the season appears bright.
Promote Shetland chief Andy Stephen echoed Mr Mathieson’s assessment: “Shetland in general is very busy at the moment. There is definitely an increase in leisure visitors this year, it’s a good situation to be in.”
Shetland Tourism Association chairman Joe Rocks, of Busta House Hotel, said: “My impressions from a business perspective is that it looks like being a good season.”
In the summer season bookings at the hotel change from being mainly business to being leisure orientated, with June typically being the busiest month. He said: “On a number of nights in June [this year] we are fully booked, as usual.”
Mr Rocks has recently been to a STA meeting where the feeling was that a “better than average” year is coming up. He said: “Last year tourism operators felt it had been their best year, with the season starting a couple of weeks earlier. This year is a continuation of that shift with the shoulder seasons improving. It’s looking good.”
NorthLink is also set to experience a bumper year, likely to be their busiest ever, according to commercial director Cynthia Spencer.
She said: “Since winning the Northern Isles ferry contract nine years ago we’ve been very keen to promote the islands as desirable holiday locations. Through marketing and advertising we’ve been heavily promoting our Group Tours packages. Every year we attend the main UK travel trade conferences and year-on-year we have seen significant increases in both group tours and self-generated visits to Shetland by individuals going it alone.
“This year is shaping up to be our busiest ever. Last year we catered for almost 200 tour groups comprising nearly 5,500 visitors to Shetland and Orkney. This year, for Shetland alone, we’re witnessing a 27 per cent increase in group tour bookings.
“Shetland provides magical holiday experiences sufficiently different from anything else in the UK to make it a real stand-out destination. The holiday experience begins the moment visitors set foot on one of our ferries. Staycationers from the UK are able to participate in holiday experiences which are ‘a world away’ but right on their doorstep too.”
Loganair commercial director Jonathan Hinkles said: “Clearly, the Tall Ships Race is going to make a tremendous difference to the number of visitors to Shetland this year, with almost double the number of passengers already booked to travel in July versus last year.”