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The Shetland Tourism Association held its AGM on Wednesday the 10th of November in The Dowry’s new function room. Jolene Garriock was elected as the association's new Chairwoman during the meeting, having just completed comprehensive research into the Shetland Tourism Sector on behalf of the association to get an accurate overview of where businesses stand as we gradually emerge from the pandemic. The results of this in-depth local study were presented at the meeting.

After the official business of the AGM was concluded, Jolene Garriock took the floor to present the results of the Tourism Services Assessment. The study, which presents a comprehensive overview of the health, prospects, and perceptions of Shetland’s Tourism sector, was backed by funding from the VisitScotland Sector & Destination Operational & Market Readiness Fund.

Ms Garriock compiled a list of 280 tourism businesses across the isles and contacted them individually, firstly via a short online survey followed by a personalised follow-up call. Part of the study’s aim was to better understand each individual business’s current situation, future outlook and, where possible, signpost existing support and resources available.

The survey had a 32% response rate with a total of 90 local businesses actively participating in the survey from a wide range of business areas. The results were generally much more positive than other similar studies carried out nationally. Although some businesses reported that they had faced difficulty accessing funding and support throughout the pandemic for a variety of reasons. The majority of businesses reported feeling confident in a full recovery of the sector with the right guidance and support. Many were also hopeful that the Shetland drama series would continue to boost sector growth and other projects such as the new Scottish Islands Passport would encourage new branches of development.

The study also involved a public consultation to explore how people in the Shetland community feel about tourists returning to our shores, travelling themselves, and what they have to say about tourism development in general. Again, the results were resoundingly positive, the vast majority of respondents said that they welcomed the return of tourism and felt that tourism businesses are able to reopen and operate safely. Perhaps for the first time, the report highlights the community’s recognition of the sector as a key contributor to local economic development and a positive force for change and sustainability. Most respondents also reported having either already travelled themselves or that they intended to do so in the near future.

The report also highlights the areas where both businesses and the public feel there is a need for dialogue, development, and support. As well as the crucial issues of ferry capacity, cost barriers to reaching Shetland and the need to develop and lengthen the season, the study highlighted people’s concerns on a wide variety of questions such as the need for a better strategy to encourage tourism in the less developed isles and outlying areas and concerns over the risk of losing important heritage sites such as the Lunna and Tingwall Kirks due to the Church of Scotland’s recent move to sell off many of its properties.

The full report is available to download here and the results of the public consultation here.

If you would like any further information on the study please contact us.

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