The Isles of Scilly’s latest Visitor Survey has revealed a growing demand for short breaks, particularly amongst first time visitors to the islands and particularly during the shoulder seasons (March, April, May, September and October).

Last year, 24% of all visitors to Scilly were first timers, 40% of whom stayed for between two and four nights. These short stay visitors said that they were flexible in terms of their preferred day of arrival, although the largest proportion actually arrived on the islands either on a Monday or Friday. The 2017 Visitor Survey also suggested a desire amongst these first-time short-break visitors to self-cater. This is despite only 17% of short breaks being accommodated within the self-catering sector, according to the statistics collected.

The 2017 survey was the most comprehensive yet, attracting 2,786 responses, an increase of 17% over 2016 (and 92% of which were completed online). 93% of respondents were staying visitors. The annual visitor surveys, which have been conducted by the Islands’ Partnership for the last four years, enable valuable data to be gathered which is now providing a useful insight at specific trends. These in turn, help the IP to shape the islands’ product development to enhance and grow the visitor economy.

Another trend that the visitor survey continues to witness is a significant and growing desire among visitors to be able to book online. 50% of respondents would have preferred to do so had the option been available. This compares with the 27% of respondents who actually did book online. The survey also found that 65% of respondents use social media and, of those, 89% were regular users of Facebook, up 2% since the last survey. The biggest percentage increase was however in the use of Instagram, which rose 8% to 21% in just 12 months.

In terms of how visitors found the information they were looking for, an impressive 75% of first-time visitors used to plan their trip. Overall, was considered to be the most useful source of information for all visitors (34%), followed by the printed Isles of Scilly Guide (20%) and the Isles of Scilly Travel website (18%).

The survey saw no significant change in the reasons that motivate visitors to come to Scilly. The islands’ natural beauty, the general atmosphere and sense of welcome all scored highest again in visitor satisfaction ratings, while the features and activities on the islands which visitors considered of highest importance to them were walking, rest & relaxation, island-hopping, the beaches, local food & drink and wildlife.

Indeed, 68% of visitors said nature and wildlife events would encourage them to visit the islands (a new event category added in the 2017 survey), closely followed by food and drink festivals (63%) and walking festivals (53%) – all reinforcing the recommendations within Scilly’s Destination Management Plan for these attributes and experiences to play through more strongly in the destination brand. The lack of evening entertainment and the lack of choice and value of the local food and drink offer once again were both named as areas of improvement however.

“The 2017 survey was in many ways the most revealing yet and demonstrates that Scilly is no different than other UK destinations in terms of the growing trend for shorter breaks and the ability to book them, and indeed most holidays, online,” said Islands’ Partnership executive director, David Jackson.

“There’s growing evidence that our new, younger visitors as well as our traditional core market are increasingly wanting to book their stays online as they can do elsewhere. Our current digital project which will see our Visit Isles of Scilly website revamped and upgraded with online book-ability options by the end of this year will significantly help to address this imbalance. The performance of our website is already strong, but we know it will be even more valuable to users, and our members, in reaching out to new markets and attracting even more new visitors to the islands.”