A NETWORK of tourism information centres is set to close over the next two years.

VisitScotland will be closing its information centres, known as iCentres, as part of a phased two-year closure, citing significant changes in the way people plan their holidays.

The centres, such as the nearest one in Stirling, will operate as normal until the end of September, with the tourism body engaging with stakeholders to discuss arrangements.

VisitScotland explained that most tourists are using online resources and travel specialists to research and book all aspects of their trips, including accommodations and activities before they arrive at their destination.

The closures will come in a bid to adapt to the shift in behaviour with resources to be invested in a digital-first strategy.

Lord Thurso, chair at VisitScotland, said: “The tourism landscape has changed significantly in recent years.

“The demand for iCentres has reduced while the demand for online information and booking has continued to grow.

“In order to continue building demand and growing the value of tourism and events, it is vitally important that we target channels we know visitors use to influence them to visit Scotland.

“Our research shows that as an organisation, we have a greater and more impactful role to play in providing information before visitors travel.

“Prioritising a digital-first model of information provision allows us to reach potential visitors at those early planning stages when we can shape their future travel decisions.”

Mid Scotland and Fife Conservative representative MSP Alexander Stewart slammed the decision.

The deputy shadow cabinet secretary for culture said: “I am absolutely appalled at this news from Visit Scotland.

“Tourism is Scotland’s 'bread and butter' and to dismantle any part of our excellent tourism infrastructure which has been built up over decades is totally inexcusable.

“Not all of our visitors have access to online facilities, especially the elderly or those who don’t feel confident with a computer.

“There is also something reassuring about being able to walk into an iCentre and being able to speak with a friendly, local adviser who knows the area well and can help with recommendations.

“All this is completely lost via an online experience, which not everyone will have access to.”

He branded the announcement a “real blow to our towns” and called on the Scottish Government to consider the impact it will have on businesses and visitors.

However, Lord Thurso explained that VisitScotland will work together with businesses and partners to “build on success and ensure that across all areas of our work – marketing, destination development, business advice, insights and events - we prioritise the activities that will deliver for our industry and for Scotland”.

The VisitScotland chair added: “By evolving our work in this way, we will be able to invest in the activities that will accelerate sustainable growth in the visitor economy, helping create jobs, sustain communities and attract investment for the future.”