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Visit Scotland | Alba
Article published 02/06/2020

The results from the latest Orkney Islands Visitor Survey – showing that visitor spend increased from £49.5 million in 2017 to £67.1 million in 2019 – will provide invaluable context by which to measure and shape tourism recovery.

The figures, published by Orkney Island Council (OIC), who funded the survey, illustrate the huge importance of the visitor sector to the Orkney economy. The survey provides robust and up-to-date estimates of visitor volume and value, as well as information on motivations, behaviours and experiences. The last such survey was carried out in 2017.

The findings reveal that there were a total of 192,173 visits to Orkney in 2019 – up from 174,273 in 2017 – and the average spend per person on Orkney in 2019 was £351, up from £292 in 2017. The research included only people departing by ferry or air and therefore excluded cruise passengers and those travelling by yacht.

Though tourism may be changed going forward, and indeed COVID-19 is an opportunity to consider how we rebuild a more sustainable and innovative tourism sector, the findings of this survey provide a crucial benchmark against which to measure our recovery and understand if we are moving in the direction we want tourism in Orkney to take.

The Orkney Tourism Strategy, that has been delivered in partnership with OIC, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Destination Orkney and other agencies, sets out an aim to increase average visitor spend and these findings show we are achieving that.

The value of tourism to Orkney has risen by over a third in just two years. This has been achieved by an increase in passenger volume as well as a significant increase in average visitor spend. This survey will be a vital touchpoint in understanding how we develop going forward. The findings are a reminder of the value of tourism to Orkney and should motivate us all to work together to rebuild it sustainably.

Cheryl Chapman, VisitScotland Development Manager for Orkney

We've been working closely alongside partner agencies to ensure that the industry is well-informed on the avenues of support being made available by government and to help businesses plan their route to recovery on both a local and national basis in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. We're now working together on a local recovery plan that aligns with the National Action Plan.

Additionally, we've set up a dedicated coronavirus advice page on since the crisis began, offering advice and information to tourism and events businesses as well as updates on funding, marketing intelligence and other resources.

The 2019 Orkney Islands Visitor Survey data was gathered using a two-stage approach. In stage one interviews were conducted face-to-face with visitors at key exit points from the islands – ferry terminals and the airport – and stage two involved a follow-up online survey to gather more detailed feedback. In total, 4,621 calibration interviews were completed and 1,187 completed online surveys.

It shows that a total of 66% of visitors were visiting for leisure purposes and half of the leisure visitors were inspired by something they had seen or heard – such as TV programmes, travel features in the press/guidebooks and books about or set in Orkney.

The survey also revealed a very positive evaluation of their experience by the vast majority of visitors – similarly high ratings were measured in both 2017 and 2019. In 2019, 91% of leisure visitors rated their satisfaction with their trip to Orkney with a score of eight or higher (out of 10) and 51% gave a perfect 10 out of 10 score.

The survey also found that the aspects of their trip which received the highest satisfaction scores were the quality and value for money of visitor attractions, the quality of local food and drink, and the quality of local arts and crafts products. The quality of accommodation was also widely regarded as excellent.

As this survey shows, Orkney offers visitors an all-round quality experience. Visitors come for the scenery, nature, culture and history, and leave having enjoyed the fantastic food and drink, inspired by our creativity and charmed by our welcome.

The landscape, wildlife, history and culture will still be here when they return – perhaps in an even better condition. However, businesses may need to adapt and innovate to make the most of new opportunities post-pandemic, such as slower travel, wellness and adventure.

Cheryl Chapman, VisitScotland Development Manager for Orkney

This is the fourth extensive annual visitor study that the council has commissioned since 2009 and I’m delighted to see that Orkney’s popularity continued to attract an ever-increasing number of visitors to our islands last year.

I’m particularly pleased to note the significantly increased contribution that visitors made to the local economy in 2019, and the continuing very positive visitor feedback across all aspects of the visitor experience.

The report confirms that the Council’s historic investment in the sector and the continuing development and promotion of the destination, along with our industry partners, is bearing fruit.

The impact of COVID-19 on the sector and its supply chains this year is of course devastating, and we are determined to work even harder now, and in the future, to try to recover some of the losses sustained this year and to rebuild the industry.

Councillor Graham Sinclair, Chair of Orkney Islands Council’s Development and Infrastructure Committee

You can find out more information on the Islands Visitor Surveys on our Research and insights pages.

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