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Hospitality opportunities in Shetland

by Alastair Hamilton -

A number of hospitality businesses have become available in Shetland recently so, at the time of writing, there are several opportunities that you might want to consider.

Visitor numbers: a healthy picture

Shetland is proving to be an increasingly attractive destination: The 2017 Visitor Survey found that visitor numbers have been increasing over recent years; the overall total rose from 64,655 in 2013 to 73,262 in 2017. Leisure visitors grew from 26,702 to 38,096 over the period, an increase of 43%.

Some of this growth is attributed to Shetland’s growing profile in the media, for example the BBC1 Shetland detective series and a steady stream of other radio and television coverage, ranging from Island Medics (BBC1 Scotland), a series exploring the work of our emergency services, to Radio 4’s Food Programme and Gardeners’ Question Time.

However, just as they have always done, Shetland’s natural attractions undoubtedly continue to draw people north. The islands offer some of the best wildlife watching in Europe, with exceptional seabird colonies and the chance of seeing otters, seals, porpoises and even, for those who are very lucky, creatures such as humpback whales or orcas. In the shoulder season, rare birds on migration draw ornithologists from far and wide.

Our festivals – such as the Shetland Folk Festival, Shetland Wool Week and the winter fire festivals, particularly Lerwick’s Up Helly Aa – attract enthusiastic audiences and participants outside the main visitor season.

There’s impressive archaeology, too, and endless opportunities for hill and coastal walking. Yet, notwithstanding increasing numbers of visitors, Shetland can still offer peace and space for those who seek quiet and solitude. These are qualities that have become rarer in some other islands around Scotland.

However, Shetland accommodation providers, particularly those in the central and north mainland, also benefit from year-round business custom, including a substantial number of contractors’ staff. Those are the areas in which the current opportunities have arisen.

The opportunities

Two hotels and a guest house are currently available in Lerwick. Five miles to the west, in the ancient capital, the Scalloway Hotel is on the market and, roughly the same distance to the north, so is the Herrislea House Hotel. In the northern village of Brae, 23 miles from Lerwick, the Brae Hotel is also for sale.

The two hotels in Lerwick are the Queen’s and the Grand, both long-established. They’re very much part of a town centre that has been carefully conserved and is much admired by the many visitors who make their way to Shetland. Both are Listed Buildings.

Lerwick is the islands’ capital and a wide range of services is available. There are very good sports and arts facilities, together with an impressive museum. The town’s fishing, engineering and manufacturing industries, as well as employment in local and national government, generate business for local hotels and guest houses all year round.

The Queen's Hotel, Lerwick

The Queen’s Hotel has a spectacular setting on the shore of Lerwick’s harbour, with a sandy beach immediately to the south; waves wash the lower walls. It’s towards the southern end of Commercial Street, the town’s traditional shopping area. There are three main floors, together with an attic and a basement. The hotel has 26 bedrooms, all ensuite.

On the ground floor, there’s a reception area, a dining room with sea views offering 38 covers, a public bar and a large commercial kitchen. There’s scope to convert a rear storage area to provide additional dining space that would also enjoy great sea views.

In the basement, there is storage and laundry space, together with a snooker room that has access to the public bar above.

Offers over £500,000 are being invited for the property and you can find more information on the agent’s website.

The Grand Hotel, Lerwick

Also on Commercial Street, the Grand Hotel is in the heart of the shopping area. In fact, a shoe shop and a photographic shop are at street level, below the hotel, with the business’s three floors – and an impressive tower - rising above them.

The Grand has 23 letting bedrooms, all of them ensuite. A breakfast room provides 38 covers and a restaurant – with good views – offers 56 covers. There’s a public bar, a lounge bar and, towards the rear, a well-equipped and popular nightclub, Posers.

The hotel has a commercial kitchen and there’s also a staff wing which provides 6 bedrooms, a bathroom and laundry room.

Offers over £450,000 are being invited for the Grand Hotel and there are more details on the agent’s website.

Breiview Guest House, Lerwick

Situated on the south side of Lerwick and within walking distance of all the town’s facilities, Breiview Guest House enjoys excellent sea views. It has been owned by the present proprietors for more than 26 years and they now wish to retire. The business enjoys trade all year round.

There are nine letting bedrooms in the house; five on the ground floor (including two singles) and four on the upper floor. All are ensuite and have been recently redecorated. The owners live in an adjacent five-bedroom property and this is available for sale by separate negotiation. Alternatively, some of the letting rooms could be used for owner’s accommodation, as was once the case.

In addition to the bedrooms, the guest house has a lounge with open fire; linked to it is a dining room with seating for 20. Both these rooms offer good views. There is also a fully equipped kitchen, staff toilet and walk-in store. Although the property is currently operated on a B&B basis, it has offered evening meals in the past and could do so again in the future.

Offers over £450,000 are being invited for the guest house and there are fuller details on the agent’s website.

The Scalloway Hotel

Scalloway is especially noted for its castle and the adjacent museum tells the remarkable story of the Shetland Bus, the covert wartime operation which supported the resistance against Nazi occupation of Norway. Both draw many visitors.

Scalloway has a number of businesses, several of them connected with the fishing industry, and is home to the NAFC Marine Centre, a college that’s part of the University of the Highlands and Islands. However, Scalloway is just ten minutes’ drive from Lerwick, so is a convenient base for both business and leisure travellers.

The Scalloway Hotel has welcomed a number of famous faces in recent years, including Douglas Henshall, who stars in the Shetland detective series, and the then Prime Minister, David Cameron.

The three-storey, stone building is a prominent feature on the village’s Main Street and there are views over the harbour. Plans exist for the redevelopment of the ground floor and for the addition of external seating and a retractable awning; at present, the lounge bar offers meals as well as drinks, with 40 covers.

The dining room, with a similar capacity, serves dinner every evening and lunch on Sundays; it’s also the main breakfast room for guests. The quality of the hotel’s food has been recognised in the award of two AA Rosettes; it’s the only establishment in the northern isles to have gained such an accolade. The kitchen is to the rear of the dining room.

The first and second floors offer a total of 23 ensuite letting bedrooms, including six singles; all have recently been upgraded to a high standard. Six of the rooms have sea views.

The vendors are seeking offers over £900,000 and there’s more information online.

Herrislea House Hotel, Tingwall

Five miles north of Lerwick, in Tingwall, the Herrislea House Hotel is on the market. Tingwall was the site of the ancient Norse parliament and the name has the same root as Dingwall and Tynwald, the Isle of Man parliament.

The area is convenient for Lerwick and for exploring more widely, particularly to the north and west. The hotel has benefitted from holiday and business custom. There are two golf courses nearby and opportunities for fishing and other outdoor activities.

Herrislea is currently operating as a successful guest house with nine letting rooms plus staff accommodation. On the ground floor, the public areas include a reception area, a large residents’ lounge, dining room and toilets. The accommodation also includes an office, excellent commercial kitchen and laundry. Ample parking is available.

There are eight ensuite bedrooms on the first floor. The two further ensuite bedrooms on the second floor have potential for conversion into an apartment.

New owners could develop the business, for example by re-instating a full public restaurant service. However, a property of this size is adaptable and it could possibly offer a generous family home with a smaller bed and breakfast element.

The selling agents are inviting offers over £295,000 and there are further details on their website.

The Brae Hotel

Brae is the main service centre and largest village in Shetland’s north mainland. There is a range of local facilities, including a primary and secondary school, a health centre and a swimming pool.

It was one of the settlements selected for development in the late 1970s in order to serve the needs of the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal and expansion has continued, albeit at a more modest rate, since then. The hotel is popular with contractors’ staff working in the area as well as tourists.

On the ground floor, the public facilities include a reception lounge, a restaurant for 50 covers, a cocktail bar, a public bar, a function room seating 100 and a snooker room. Nine of the bedrooms, one of them an accessible ensuite, are located on the ground floor. Also on this level are a commercial kitchen, a cellar, a laundry room and two small rooms, one leased to a beauty therapy business and the other used by the post office each morning for mail sorting.

The first floor contains a further 26 ensuite bedrooms, including two singles. All the bedrooms have televisions and tea and coffee making facilities. There is car parking adjacent to the hotel

Staff accommodation is currently provided in five three-bedroom houses to the rear of the hotel. These aren’t included in the sale but would be available by separate negotiation.

The selling agents are seeking offers over £995,000 for the hotel and further information is available from them

Other opportunities

If you’re interested in moving to Shetland to operate a business in the hospitality sector, there are frequently other opportunities. Local solicitors – there’s a list towards the bottom of our page on housing – usually offer a number of properties large enough to combine a family home with a small bed and breakfast business.

Other businesses come onto the market from time to time. For example, a bar in Scalloway and a fish and chip shop in Lerwick were for sale at the time of writing. Some Shetland properties appear on sites such as Rightmove.

there are frequently other opportunities

Finding out more

To prepare this blog, we’ve used details provided on the various agents’ websites, supplemented by background information about the Lerwick, Scalloway, Tingwall and Brae areas. We’ve used all the information in good faith, but we can’t guarantee that it’s accurate or complete. You shouldn’t rely on it in making any decisions, nor should this article be read as offering any form of investment advice; any purchaser would need to carry out their own due diligence.

If you wish to make enquiries about any of the properties, please contact the agents concerned rather than Promote Shetland.

However, we do have lots of information about Shetland on our website, including essential facts, things for visitors to do, getting here, getting around and exploring, and practical guidance on living and working in the islands.

We’re also very happy to offer further advice on all of these aspects of Shetland: contact details are here. If you’re thinking about a move to this wonderful part of the world, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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