VisitScotland to close every tourist information centre around the country in move described as 'hammer blow'

The network of around 25 centres – from Lerwick to Portree and Dumfries – will close over the next two years.

VisitScotland will close its network of information centres over the next two years as it phases out face-to-face contact with tourists, in a move described as a “hammer blow” to the industry.

The national tourism body runs round 25 centres across the country with all to close as more money is invested in digital online guides. UK Government Minister for Scotland John Lamont was among those to criticise the move, urging the Scottish Government to consider the impact on both businesses and visitors.

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A total of 170 staff will be affected – 120 permanent workers and 50 seasonal employees.

Portee in Skye will lose its visitor information centre at a time when record numbers of visitors are due on the island.           PIC: Ben Kaufman/CCPortee in Skye will lose its visitor information centre at a time when record numbers of visitors are due on the island.           PIC: Ben Kaufman/CC
Portee in Skye will lose its visitor information centre at a time when record numbers of visitors are due on the island. PIC: Ben Kaufman/CC

VisitScotland said there will be no compulsory redundancies and staff have been offered a range of options including reskilling, redeployment and voluntary redundancy.

The organisation said the move followed significant changes to the way people plan their holidays with most using online resources and travel specialists to research and book all aspects of their trips. This includes arranging accommodation and activities before they arrive at their destination.

TikTok, YouTube, online travel websites and tools like AI are among the ways people now find and plan holiday experiences, it added.

The move comes amid unprecedented visitor numbers in parts of Scotland, with tourist leaders in Skye last week revealing that up to one million visitors are due to arrive on the island this year.

A spokesman for SkyeConnect, a destination management organisation on the island which represents tourism- related businesses and works on projects to deal with high levels of tourist demand, said: “This is another hammer blow for the tourism industry in Scotland. It’s the result of the Scottish Government cutting VisitScotland’s budget and comes on the back of Government cuts to Destination Management Organisations, the Highland Ranger service and key rural infrastructure funds.

"The centre in Portree is always busy during the tourist season with visitors seeking information to enhance their time on Skye. It seems tourism and the rural economy is being abandoned by the Scottish Government.”

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Following last December’s Scottish Government budget, VisitScotland capital funding for 2024/25 went down by 67 per cent, from £7.9m to £2.6m with revenue funding down 4.5 per cent to £38.6m compared to £40.4m this year, according to the Scottish Tourism Alliance.

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All VisitScotland information centres – known as iCentres - will operate as usual until the end of September as part of phased two-year closure programme.

Sarah MacLean, chief executive of Outer Hebrides Tourism, said the planned closure of the Stornoway centre came at a time when record numbers of tourists were due to arrive on Lewis given the large cruise ships docking at the new deepwater harbour extension from later this year.

Ms MacLean said the iCentres were “valuable” in a smaller communities where sources of information were limited and full digital access was not always available due to connectivity.

"The iCentres may seem a little old fashioned to some but they are very relevant in locations like ours,” she added.

She said the organisation would look at ways in which to innovate in light of the announcement but questioned whether tourists only needed information in a digital format.

“My sense locally, in this community, is that it is not going to work. The idea that we have no information point on the island and that the only option for visitors is to access information digitally, well we are not just there yet,” she added.

The iCentre in Tarbert in Harris closed in 2019 with a ‘welcome point’ set up by VisitScotland in a nearby shop. That system is replicated in Uist and Barra.

Ms MacLean added: "It works ok but we had a discussion with one of the groups in Uist who found it quite challenging over the summer given the amount of time they spent on visitor inquiries actually detracted from what they wanted to do, which was serve customers in the shop.”

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She said closures of the iCentre could create further disquiet in some communities divided over the benefits of tourism given the volume of visitors and the lack of infrastructure in place for them.

Ms MacLean said: “It can leave communities at best a little bit pressured and at worst a little bit exploited.

“In Stornoway we are going to see tens of thousands of visitors arrive when key resources are being taken out.”

Lord Thurso, chairman of VisitScotland said demand for iCentres had reduced while demand for digital information continued to grow.

He said: “In order to continue building demand and growing the value of tourism and events, it is vitally important that we target channels we know visitors use to influence them to visit Scotland.

“Our research shows that as an organisation, we have a greater and more impactful role to play in providing information before visitors travel. Prioritising a digital-first model of information provision allows us to reach potential visitors at those early planning stages when we can shape their future travel decisions.

“By evolving our work in this way, we will be able to invest in the activities that will accelerate sustainable growth in the visitor economy, helping create jobs, sustain communities and attract investment for the future.”

John Lamont , UK Government Minister for Scotland, said online information on holidays was not available to all, with visitors disadvantaged by the decision.

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Mr Lamont said: "The closure of all 25 VisitScotland tourist information centres across the country will be a blow to our towns and puts at a disadvantage the many thousands of tourists from the UK and beyond, who use their services. While online tourism is growing, it is not available to all and these centres from Lerwick to Dumfries ensure vital information can be accessed by those tourists, particularly the elderly.

"I'd urge the Scottish Government to consider the impact this will have on local businesses and on visitors to areas where tourism is a huge part of the local economy."

A Scottish Government spokesman said the decision was an operational matter for VisitScotland.

He added: “These proposals would bring VisitScotland into line with Visit England and Visit Wales, neither of which operate visitor centres. Importantly, VisitScotland will continue to engage with stakeholders and local businesses on this announcement.”



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