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Visit Scotland | Alba
Article published 22/05/2020

Hear from our Development Manager for Shetland, Steve Mathieson, on the impact of COVID-19 on tourism, how 2020 was shaping up for Shetland and how things may look for the industry during recovery.


"Coronavirus was a word that most people had never heard this time last year, yet in a few short months, it has completely devastated the tourism industry in Shetland.

Shetland relies heavily on tourism and local businesses have been hit very hard, with accommodation providers, tour guides, boat trips and attractions facing months of cancellations and perhaps the loss of the entire season this year.

“With festivals, including the EventScotland-funded Shetland Folk Festival and Shetland Boat Week, having to cancel right up until the autumn, there’s unlikely to be any real recovery in the shoulder season.

“We were due to have a record year for cruise ship visits, with over 100 ships carrying over 100,000 passengers for the first time. Cancellations are now into June and beyond with the strong possibility of disruption throughout the year.

We’re here to support the industry during this challenging time, working to help with the immediate priorities and doing everything we can to help in a rapidly-evolving environment including providing advice and help with funding.

We’re feeding back critical information from the industry to the government on a weekly basis through the Scottish Tourism Emergency Response Group (STERG) and other channels to ensure there’s an understanding of the real needs of businesses and where some are in danger of falling through the cracks.

“This has helped ensure a swift and flexible approach from the government which is now covering most of the bases, although more work is still needed.

“Shetland Islands Council has been administering the support scheme grants and has already approved or paid out over £5.5 million. The feedback from industry is that the council has turned their claims around incredibly quickly despite the avalanche of admin involved.”

“Although there are no timescales as yet, we’re currently developing a phased approach to planning and marketing activity that can be put in place once we are in a position to start welcoming visitors again. We’ll be involved with our local partners to ensure the best outcomes for Shetland. It’s likely that domestic tourism will begin much sooner than international.

“Some activities that are in the planning stages are continuing despite the crisis, such as the Scottish Islands Passport scheme and the funding applications for the Hermaness boardwalk improvement and tourist hub.

“Shetland Arts have announced a new festival, Shetland Unlocked, which will take place six weeks after the end of lockdown. Although it will be primarily for the community it may well be a draw for domestic tourists to visit the isles.

“Although travel to Shetland is compromised for this year, many providers are reporting that visitors are already re-booking for 2021. It’s great to see that they’re determined to get here eventually!”

“We don’t know how long this current unprecedented situation will last, and we’re gathering data and insight on a regular basis. As we all know, the tourism industry is a resilient one, as we saw after foot and mouth and 9/11, but this is far more severe. Recovery will require our collective efforts and we must act as one to ensure the best possible outcomes for the entire visitor economy.”


For the latest Coronavirus updates, take a look at our dedicated advice page
Our Shetland Facebook group is also another good place to find support from colleagues, partners and other businesses in the area.