One of Shetland’s long-standing family firms, John Leask & Son, is to close its travel agency and lay off seven members of staff.
The decision follows fruitless attempts to sell the agency, which have been ongoing since last October. The business will continue to operate the shop on Lerwick’s Esplanade until the year end.
Travel bookings which can be completed before then can still be made at the premises. Any bookings that have been made for 2012 will be honoured, and the bus and coach operation which has been run by the family for over 90 years will continue as normal.
The future of the agency has been in doubt since the premises went on the market last year.
Peter Leask, who started working for the family in the early 1970s alongside his brother Andrew, admitted the onslaught of internet travel bookings and direct sell incentives by tour operators had led to the decision to close.
“The travel agency has been on the market for the last year, but there has been nothing forthcoming and no offers to take it on as a going concern,” said Mr Leask.
“After this length of time, in the present economic climate, we have decided now is the time to terminate that side of the business, and that will happen on 31st December.”
Mr Leask stressed the business would honour bookings it had made for next year.
“It’s not like a sweetie shop where you can just close up shop. We want to stress the fact that any confirmed bookings for 2012 will not be affected.”
He said changing buying habits among travellers had impacted greatly on the business.
“The options for travel have changed most in recent years.
There are so many other ways of making travel arrangements. The business has been affected. There has been a bigger push for direct sell by tour operators and people are booking online.”
John Leask & Son first started up as a transport operator as long ago as 1919.
The travel agency side evolved as a result of direct air travel to Shetland in 1936, when Leask became the agent for Allied Airways when it started flying to the isles.
Mr Leask said he would be sorry to see the agency close. Its four full-time and three part-time staff are all facing redundancy as a result of the decision. He stressed he was “not retired”.
The company still plans to sell the Esplanade property and concentrate its operations on its bus depot at Gremista.
But he admitted feeling a strong attachment to the travel side of the business. “It’s been a very difficult decision to make, when you’ve been involved in it personally for 40 years. But the time is right and we have to move on.”
In reaction to the news, flight operator Loganair today said its hospital visitor fares service would continue to be available through the Loganair Air Discount Scheme helpline on 0844 8002855.
The company’s chief operating officer, Jonathan Hinkles, said: “Loganair is sorry to learn that Leasks Travel, a name synonymous with travel to and from Shetland for many years, has decided to close. Everyone at Loganair sends their thoughts and sympathies to the dedicated team at Leasks Travel.
“It is a reflection of the tremendous integrity of the individuals involved that Peter Leask and his staff have undertaken to look after those customers who already have future bookings in place.
“Loganair offers its heartfelt thanks and best wishes to Peter Leask and his team for the future.”