Visit Scotland’s ICentres

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, met with the Minister for Employment and Investment, Tom Arthur, on Wednesday (19.06.2024) to discuss the concerns surrounding the phased closure of VisitScotland’s 25 iCentres throughout Scotland, 12 of which are within the Highlands and Islands region.


The phased closure programme is due to begin in September and will end in March 2026 as VisitScotland claims that the demand for information centres has reduced while the demand for online information and booking has continued to grow.


However a Freedom of Information request reveals that while total visitor numbers to the network dropped during the pandemic, they have increased year on year since then with over 1.37million people visiting a centre in 2023. It also shows that 8 of the centres have increased sales from their pre-pandemic figure including four in the Highlands and Islands region – Craignure, Lerwick, Rothesay and Ullapool.


Rhoda Grant said “VisitScotland’s decision is based on people moving online to book holidays, but 1.37million visitors used the iCentres last year and sales have increased in some centres since pre-pandemic.


“I have no doubt many will have used digital sources to plan their holiday too but many clearly still felt the need to seek more information in person when they were in the country so there is a definite demand there.”


94% of VisitScotland’s core funding from 2024/25 comes from Scottish Government Grant in Aid and 6% comes from other sources, such as retail and commercial income.


VisitScotland’s website has a section on Island Communities Impact Assessments and why they need to be carried out when decisions of this nature are taken. VisitScotland didn’t carry out Island Impact Assessments and instead carried out their own screening assessment. They claim the impact the closures will have on island areas won’t be significantly different to the impact they will have in mainland areas.


Mrs Grant continued “VisitScotland claim that most of the jobs will be retained through redeployment but where will island based staff be redeployed to?


“It’s not clear from the information provided by VisitScotland and the Scottish Government exactly how many staff will be affected by these closures, and what alternatives will be offered to island based staff.


“This will have a far bigger impact in island communities and will only seek to add to the depopulation of our islands. For an organisation that is almost entirely funded by the Scottish Government, one would have though that to disregard government policy on this is shoddy at best, arrogant and ignorant at worst.”


Footfall had been collected at each location via the means of either electronic or manual visitor count system. Since November 2023 however, only manual trackers have been used to collate footfall. The MSP wants to know why the process was changed to solely manual trackers in November 2023.


The Minister with responsibility for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade, Richard Lochhead, is currently unavailable due to health reasons but he met with VisitScotland in March urging them to continue discussions with partner organisations and to listen to any concerns that communities and businesses may have.


Mrs Grant says “There’s been no prior engagement with MSPs on this. The concerns are being brought to us by constituents and by local newspapers representing the needs of their communities.”


The Minister advised Mrs Grant that he will:-


  • raise concerns with VisitScotland and ask them to consider/reconsider the impact on islands in particular
  • ask VisitScotland to provide her with more information and clarity around the reasons for the decision
  • follow up with her and meet again if needed

Rhoda Grant concluded “The tourism and hospitality sector has been one of the worst hit from the pandemic and we need to be bolstering these businesses at this time, not cutting services to the millions of people who visit Scotland annually. We must get this decision reversed.”