The Shetland Islands’ only independent travel agency is to shut after 75 years with the loss of seven jobs.
John Leask & Son has been involved in transport since its foundation in 1919 when John R Leask and his son James started the business as a taxi service operating two vehicles.
The business grew during the 1920s and 1930s, with the first bus operating from approximately 1928. The travel agency in Lerwick was opened in 1936 with the arrival of the first air service to the islands run by Allied Airways.
Peter Leask, grandson of the company’s founder who runs the business with his brother Andrew, said the agency was to close at the end of the year after failing to find a buyer to take it on as a going concern.
The company is to move its entire operation to a depot in Gremista where it runs a bus service that employs almost 40 people. The agency will continue operating until the end of the year and all existing bookings that have been made will be honoured. The agency on Lerwick’s Esplanade will be put up for sale.
Leask, who joined the family business in 1972, told the Shetland Times: “It’s not an easy trade to be in these days. It’s difficult to remain competitive with the other avenues for booking travel in the modern age. Both my brother and I are in our 60s and it was time to start looking at the future.”
Business has tailed off as airlines and tour operators have started to sell directly to customers via the internet. Agents have also lost commission on sales, having to charge a handling fee instead, making it even tougher to survive.
“I would say that we have done better than a lot of travel agents, but there has been a declining volume of business for a year or two now. We have worked on it as best we could, but I think now is the right time to make a decision,” Leask said.
While there are no other independent high street retailers in the area, there is a Travel Counsellor based in Scalloway, Michelle Wishart.
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