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WESTRAY Doubles Tourists In January  - March

A special deal designed to encourage winter visits to a remote Orkney community has turned into an important tourism success story for the island.  New figures show that visitors booked more than 430 accommodation nights with hotels and self catering establishments in Westray during the first three months of 2002 - nearly double the figure for the same period last year.

January, February and March are usually among the quietest months of the year for tourism businesses in the outlying North Isles community.  But this year, the Westray Winter Warmers initiative encouraged people to take out-of-season mini breaks - with the offer of free ferry travel for visitors making two and three night stays on the island.

The special promotion was backed by the Orkney Marketing Scheme, which is funded by Orkney Enterprise, Orkney Islands Council and from Europe through the Highlands and Islands Special Programme. It was supported by the Westray and Papa Westray Tourist Association as a way to extend the visitor season.

Orkney Enterprise, delighted by the success of the venture, will look closely at repeating the exercise next year - and may extend the promotion to take in other isles communities.
Development manager Maureen Shearer said: "We've been really encouraged by just how popular this pilot project proved to be. We're delighted that the initiative didn't simply achieve the aims we set - it exceeded all our expectations."

In all, there were 114 bookings from visitors with Westray's accommodation providers between January and the end of March this year - 40 more than during the same three months in 2001.
The visitors - who were offered free ferry journeys for a car and two people - spent a total of 432 nights at hotels and self catering establishments, compared to a figure of 237 for the January-March period last year.

Linda Hagan, from the Westray and Papa Westray Tourist Association, said: "We're very pleased - I think the whole community has been aware that there were visitors in the island every weekend.
"For communities like ours in the North Isles, the only way we can extend our tourist season is to attract people from the Mainland of Orkney. By absorbing the ferry fare, it made a big difference to the cost of a weekend in Westray. And the people who took advantage of the promotion felt they were getting a very good deal."

Malcolm Stout, owner of the Cleaton House Hotel, said: "The winter warmers promotion was a big success for us.  "We've built up a winter trade over the past few years, with people travelling from Orkney Mainland to spend the weekend with us. Usually, we'd be half full at the weekends. But this year, from the middle of January to the end of March, we were booked solid every weekend and having to turn people away.

"We had a mix of new visitors and those who had stayed with us before. Many of the new guests said they'd been thinking of spending a weekend in Westray for some time - but his promotion gave them just the incentive they needed to book a stay in the island."

Other businesses benefited from the extra visitors as well as the accommodation providers.
Artist Edwin Rendall had many more visits than he would normally expect in winter from people keen to see his work on display at the Wheeling Steen studio and gallery.

"January to March is usually a very quiet time when we would mainly see local people at the gallery," he said. "But we had visitors in most weekends - there was a significant increase in numbers this year compared to the same period during the previous two years.

"The short length of the tourist season is the biggest problem we face. So it was good to see people visiting the island during the winter - and to have extra sales at that time of the year."
The promotion was run in partnership with Orkney Ferries. Ferry services manager Alastair Learmonth said: "It was definitely a success as far as we were concerned - we saw a considerable amount of additional trade at a quiet time of the year. It's certainly something we would consider doing again next winter."  He added that the company would be happy to talk to community groups from other isles interested in running a similar scheme next year.