A DECISION by Scotland’s tourism agency to shut down both of its Loch Ness visitor centres will not impact trade, according to a leading industry chief.
VisitScotland’s presence in Drumnadrochit and Fort Augustus will end within two years as part of the latest cuts by the Scottish Government agency – and it has blamed the internet.
Almost two-thirds of its 65 information centres are closing – leaving Inverness city centre and Ullapool as its only mainland presence in the north.
Affected staff will have a choice of redundancy or possible redeployment.
VisitScotland, which has been heavily criticised by the sector over many years, said the cuts were a response to tourists going online rather than visiting its bases.
Reporting a 58 per cent drop in tourist office visits in the past 12 years, it considers the closures part of "a dynamic strategy to address the diverse transformation in the way visitors access information".
Graeme Ambrose, chief executive of the privately operated VisitInvernessLochNess tourism initiative, said: "I understand why they’re closing. They’ve been in decline for a good number of years.
"I don’t think it’ll have any impact of any degree on tourism. The use of online information and social media continues to increase at an astronomical rate."
He did not think the shrinking VisitScotland presence rendered the organisation redundant.
"They absolutely have a purpose because they market Scotland," he said. "They have a massive job to do internationally."
VisitScotland is planning to increase its number of web outlets providing content on places to visit and stay with a mix of industry partners.
Successful "iCentres" (tourist information offices) in Inverness, Aviemore, Fort William and Ullapool will be among 26 "travel hubs, welcoming over 578,800 visitors a year".
VisitScotland has also announced a partnership with the NorthCoast500 initiative to "drive up quality and information provision in businesses along the route".
Fort Augustus iCentre will close by the end of March next year and the Drumnadrochit outlet by October 2018.
Information will continue to be provided through arrangements with visitor attractions, accommodation providers, restaurants and tourism groups.
Scotland attracts 15 million visitors a year, according to the agency.
Its funding from local authorities has diminished for some years as a result of councils’ reduced budgets.
Much of VisitScotland’s future focus will switch to information via smartphones and tablets.
It claims that in the past year, its revamped website has delivered 2.7 million referrals worth a potential £560 million to businesses.
VisitScotland spokesman Chris Taylor said: "With three in four adults now owning a smartphone, a key focus is ensuring our digital communications provide succinct inspirational and informational advice to visitors at every stage of their journey."
Asked what redeployment possibilities were available, a spokeswoman for the agency said: "We’ll offer the chance to learn new skills or move to another office where feasible.
"Nationally, some staff have taken voluntary redundancy already and others have transferred to nearby iCentres."
Figures show that Scotland’s visitors from North America spent £732 million in the 12 months to the end of June 2017 – up from £495 million the year before.