Shetland’s tourism economy grew by £12.6 million between 2017-19 – with more than half of visitors giving their trip a “perfect’ rating.
VisitScotland has this week released the findings of the 2019 Shetland Islands Visitor Survey, which found the number of arrivals also grew by more than nine per cent to 80,128.
Although the tourism industry has been severely hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, the survey’s findings show how the sector had been enjoying significant growth in the two years before it struck.
VisitScotland’s Shetland based development manager Steve Mathieson said the survey would form an “important building block” in the industry’s recover, following the pandemic.
Mr Mathieson said: “The tourism industry in Shetland, like everywhere else in Scotland, has been completely devastated by the coronavirus, however, the encouraging results from the visitor survey show us how successful tourism has been in the past in Shetland and will undoubtedly help inform us of how recovery here might look and how we can aim to get back to that place again.
“The findings of this latest visitor survey are very positive. Shetland is renowned for its wildlife and stunning scenery, unique culture, archaeology, arts and music.
“People flock here to see this for themselves and I am confident they will again, but it will take time.
“It is encouraging to see from the survey that 72 per cent of our visitors come from either Scotland or the UK.
“Once restrictions are eased, these will be the people who will return first to visit us, as international visitors will take longer to return to overseas travel again.
“It is also interesting to see that compared to 2017 there has been an increase in the proportion of visits to friends and relatives (11 per cent in 2017 compared to 20 per cent in 2019) and we would expect to see this replicated as lockdown is eased as people are keen to see their friends and relatives again after such a long period away from them.
“Unsurprisingly, the survey details how interactions with local people were a particular highlight for visitors – 98 per cent of those who answered agreed that local people really added to the experience and 90 per cent enjoyed excellent customer service.
“We always give visitors a warm welcome and this is something that is important to them and is something Shetlanders are renowned for.”
The survey showed there were 80,128 visits to Shetland in 2019, up nione per cent from 73,262 in 2017.
The value of the visits was calculated as £35.8m with the average spend per person £448.
This is an increase in the value of visits by £12.6m and an increase in average spend by person of £131 since 2017.
Out of the 80,128 visits in 2019, 50 per cent were for leisure purposes. There was also a large rise in first time visitors to the islands.
It revealed how the vast majority of visitors to Shetland provided a very positive evaluation of their experience on the islands.
An impressive 94 per cent of leisure visitors rated their satisfaction with a score of 8, 9 or 10 out of 10 – and 59 per cent gave a perfect 10 out of 10 score.
Thomas Coutts, acting executive manager of economic development at Shetland Islands Council added: “We are clearly in an extremely difficult time for the national and local visitor economies, and our local tourism businesses are suffering hardship as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown.
“However, my feeling is that the results of this report will help point the way towards some measure of recovery – there is a great deal of information in this survey showing the things we were doing right, including productive and positive social media campaigns, and the success of local businesses in developing high quality products and services for the visitor economy.
“Collective efforts to develop our offer to visitors led to such a positive experience in 2019, and we need to look at the lessons from this survey so that when the time is right we can look to regroup and grow the sector again, building on the things which make Shetland so special and so welcoming to visitors.”
David Nicol, head of Promote Shetland, said: “The 2019 visitor survey highlights the increasing importance of tourism to the Shetland economy, showing notable growth since the previous survey in 2017. The situation in 2020 is clearly very different, but the valuable insights from the survey provide a starting point for the efforts to rebuild this sector once normality returns.
“We know there are plenty of people who are passionate about visiting, and the attractions that make Shetland so appealing will still be here. While there are undoubtedly significant challenges ahead, the 2019 survey provides many reasons to be optimistic that tourism can have a strong future.”