Orkney has been crowned Scotland’s top island but there is little chance of anyone there resting on their laurels.
As delighted as islanders are about topping the poll by Which?, the result hardly came as a shock to them.
“It is no surprise,” said Orkney Islands Council leader James Stockan.
“In terms of the offer we have, it is so varied and of such good quality from archaeology to ornithology to so many of the other areas, whether it is diving or people just wanting to see the wide open spaces.”
Orkney emerged as the best Scottish island on the survey after being given an impressive visitor score of 88%.
The archipelago – with its 70 or so islands – was the only one in the survey to receive five stars for its tourist attractions, with visitors speaking highly of its many prehistoric sites and archaeology.
Perhaps more importantly, Orkney was the only contender ranked five stars for its tourist attractions.
Work to build ‘top quality attractions’ must continue
Five-star rating or not, the work to improve what’s on offer is continuing.
Mr Stockan said: “We have been building a tourism offering over the years and our islands have become so dependent economically on tourism.
“We must make sure that we can carry on building top quality attractions and make people’s experience as good as it can possibly be.
“What we do have in Orkney are these wonderful vistas where, wherever you are, you normally have a view of land and sea and islands as stepping stones onto the horizon.
“We have got something in every single strata or era of archaeology right from the Mesolithic.
“There is just so much unique history.
“Not just Scots but our old Viking or Norse heritage and it makes Orkney a place where you can come time and time again and struggle to exhaust the things there are to do and to learn about.”
— Susanne Arbuckle (@ScotAdventures) May 31, 2021
Calls for fairer travel costs to the islands
It’s clear that people love Orkney once they get there, but one of the snagging issues it faces is the cost of ferry travel.
Mr Stockan said: “We are still in the process through the islands deal of building to make the offering better and at the same time we still have new things being excavated that we need to know how to deal with in the future.
“We are the only place in Scotland that doesn’t have a fair structure that is comparable with the west coast and anywhere else.
“That will be one of the important factors.”
Off-peak visits encouraged
He continued: “We are restricted in the number of people we can accommodate in Orkney so somebody assessing you as good – we would like to be excellent.
“The thing that is important for us now is to develop into having a longer season.
“Although our quality is really high, our season has been a bit shorter and people must begin to realise that some of the things you can do and see, there is an advantage to coming off-peak and off season.
“Orkney has got a lot to offer almost as the gateway to the Arctic.
“So as people maybe aren’t travelling so far across the world in the next few years, they can experience that far north experience here.”
Orkney is the centre of my universe.”
“I can’t help being particularly biased,” Mr Stockan added.
“Undoubtedly Orkney is the centre of my universe so I can’t say anything other than it being the best.
“This is a wonderful place and a place of wonder.
Another glorious day on #Orkney. Lochs, standing stones, birds, hares, Brough of Birsay where we got impatient and shed shoes & socks to paddle across causeway (brrr!) So had all to ourselves for a while. Thanks @peediepuss for a great day.@orkneycom @VisitScotland @OAS_Orkney pic.twitter.com/dgcnLAJ1S9
— Juliet Rix (@julietrix1) May 31, 2021
“I think there is more to do than people would certainly imagine.
“It is something that has got almost an offering for everybody, for those that are interested in such a wide range of things; there is so much happening and so much to do here.
“This year will be different because so many events have been cancelled but beyond that, just staying in that beauty and the flora and fauna are exceptional.”