Bookings drop off as VisitShetland is left without phones

VisitShetland staff at the tourist body’s Lerwick premises have been left without phone power for several days – during the busiest spell of the season.

Calls to the Market Cross offices have been diverting to Edinburgh since a Shetland-wide power cut caused the local tourism body’s phone system to “blow out”.

Scottish and Southern Energy launched an investigation after a power failure left all of its 13,000 customers without power last Tuesday night.

Tourism staff here are taking messages via mobile phones which have been drafted in to help deal with the influx of calls as the season enters its peak period.

Calls are also coming to the body’s information centre at Sumburgh Airport.

Visitor numbers are expected to be up this summer as a result of Shetland’s increased media exposure earlier this year.

One tourist operator says bookings through the tourist office have “dropped off” as a result of the technical problems.

Jonathan Wills, of Seabirds-And-Seals, says the peak season problem is holding back business.

“It’s peak season. Bookings through the tourist office have dropped off because people can’t get in touch. You wonder how much business is being lost because the tourist office charges a commission, quite rightly, for making bookings so they’re income will be hit.”

VisitShetland boss Steve Mathieson insisted there had been no major issues, and said staff had coped admirably with the problems.

“We’ve tried to do as much as we can. We had that power cut last week and it’s basically blown up our system,” he said.

“What we thought was going to be a simple fix has ended up a bit more complicated.

“We’ve got our phones diverted to Edinburgh. At this point we’ve got mobile phones, so we get those messages through.

“We’ve also got the Sumburgh phone number as well, which people can use. We’re handling it at the moment but obviously the ideal situation is to get it fixed.”

Mr Mathieson said much of the problem may have related to VisitShetland’s rather outdated IT system. The tourism body is liaising with BT to have the problem sorted by the end of the week.

“The system pre-dates me, certainly, so I think it’s a fairly old system.

Steve Mathieson:
Steve Mathieson: “The staff are coping admirably as usual. I haven’t heard that there have been any major issues.”

“I think it’s partly the fact it’s an ageing system. It’s probably coming to the end of its life but the power cut brought it a bit prematurely.

“The IT department are working on it in the moment and we’ll have a new system in place.”

The technical glitch struck right in the heart of the summer tourist season.

This summer is expected to be busier than most, given the level of publicity the isles have received thanks to the <i>Shetland</i> television drama, not to mention the online hit that was Socks the dancing pony. Sunday night’s showing of the isles in <i>Countryfile</i> will also have shown Shetland to a wider audience, and may yet attract visitors.

Mr Mathieson said it was too soon to tell for sure how big a boost the extra PR will have provided for Shetland’s visitor numbers.

“We’ve had some good PR coverage. Part of which we’ve been responsible for. The staff are coping admirably as usual. I haven’t heard that there have been any major issues.

“We now have four mobiles on the desk – and three others that staff can use. It’s not ideal, but it’s not within our hands, essentially.

“Of course, when would a phone system blow out other than when you need it the most.”

Anyone looking to contact VisitShetland can use the mobile number 07876 576811, while the Sumburgh information centre is 01950 460905.

“That mobile number has been up from the start. We’ve obviously always got the Sumburgh number.

“We haven’t heard of any major issues. We try to let as many people as we can in the industry know. We hope to have it running by the end of this week.”


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