When the opportunity arose for me to participate in a "learning journey" to Shetland with Aberdeen City & Shire Hoteliers Association I did not hesitate to sign up (even though my sea legs are not the best). The purpose of the trip, organised by Northlink Ferries, was to provide an educational trip to our close neighbours to build links to work together more closely in the future. I would just like to share some "peerie" insights to my experience of the trip. I had never been to Shetland before and I have to say the whole trip was amazing and really opened my eyes both to the beauty of the place and the friendly welcome of the people. It also highlighted the many synergies for our food & drink and tourism businesses and the possibilities of working more closely together in the future. We boarded the NLF Hrossey on the Thursday night and got settled in to our home away from home for two nights – a cabin with a Glencraft mattress on the bed #buyNE. It was then all out on deck as the sun came out for our departure from Aberdeen. Back inside and after some very tasty locally sourced canapés, including filled Orkney beef with creamed horseradish, we settled down for our hoteliers meeting. This included an insightful update on the establishment and growth of Aberdeen Festivals from Angela Michael which highlighted the shift of mindset required to collaborate – moving to a “what’s in it for us, rather than what’s in it for me” approach. The attendance figures for the festivals involved have all seen significant growth so the new approach definitely demonstrating direct results. The topic of collaboration provided a good back drop to the hoteliers discussion on how we all can work better together to offer new products, and special packages and deals for specific promotions and events, such as Black Friday. Dinner in the Magnus lounge once again show cased the amazing local produce Northlink use on board their ferries and why they have VisitScotland Taste our Best accreditation – you would never guess I look after food & drink members at the Chamber! Our overnight trip got a bit bumpy between Orkney and Shetland but we arrived in Lerwick at 7am and after a hearty breakfast, to fuel us for the day, we disembarked to board our mini bus and to meet our driver for the day Wilson. At this point the heavens chose to open and we wondered whether we might be dashing to and from the bus all day. Thankfully, the shower was short-lived and the day cleared to sunshine and blue skies to showcase Shetland at its very best. The one-day programme that Fiona Anderson and the team at Northlink Ferries organised for us provided a wonderful insight in to business in Shetland and also provided some great contacts for all of us to build further relationships with. A big thank you to Marian Armitage, chairman of Shetland Food & Drink Association, who organised most of our visits and was our additional tour guide throughout the day. Our first stop of the day was the Headquarters for Seafood Shetland and before we even got in to the building we encountered our first wildlife of the day, seals looking for some fish. Inside, the manager of the Shetland Seafood Auctions Martin Leyland talked us through the establishment of the online auction of the fish landed in Shetland and also the harbour expansion plans. We were then taken down to visit the online auction process and of course get dressed in some fetching blue outfits to see the fish which had been purchased. The fish marketA view over ScallowayThe lunch at the Scalloway HotelProduction at the Shetland Soap CompanyThe Up Helly Aa exhibitionThe local press joined us to speak with Gary Atkinson, chair of ACSHA, and Andrew Martin from RGU about the reasons for the trip. We were also joined by some of the other fishing industry key contacts and two local councillors. Some interesting facts were revealed during our discussion over very fine shortbread (the theme of good food continues) 37% of Shetland GDP is from the export of seafood, generating £300million for the local economy. The oil industry is only £40–60million and way down the list. 80% mussel tonnage in Scotland is from Shetland. Shetland created a sovereign fund in the heyday of oil which allows them to continue to provide a high standard of life for the residents. Next stop was to Jacob Eunson Abattoir where we not only got a behind the scenes look at the abattoir process from Lauraine Manson but also got the opportunity to meet the livestock and see it being sold in the auction next door – lots of sheep. Provenance and traceability of every single animal processed; cows, sheep and more recently pork, is key in everything they do. Back on the bus we headed to the beautiful Scalloway and to the award-winning Scalloway Hotel, where our hosts Peter and Caroline McKenzie provided a very warm welcome. We were joined for lunch by a range of local business, including Scoop Wholefood, Mirrie Dancers (chocolatier), Shetland Reel Gin, the local VisitScotland representative, COPE Social Enterprise Company, QA Fish, and a local crofter who is looking to establish a farm shop (and might want some quality produce from Aberdeenshire). Once again we were provided with an amazing banquet of food created from the local produce (beef, seafood, pork and vegetables). We were also treated to tasting some local beers and Shetland Reel gin.On our journey back to Lerwick we had a special stop to get photos of Shetland ponies – well we couldn’t come all this way and not! Our next port of call was to the Shetland Soap Company which is one of five businesses which are part of the COPE Social Enterprise which provide work opportunities for adults with learning disabilities. All the soap products are made by hand from scratch and we got the chance to observe this process before of course buying some products to take home.A brief wander round the town centre saw the group bee-line to the Mirrie Dancers (also Shetland for the Northern Lights) chocolate shop and in the interest of quality assurance I can of course testify to how good it was. Our last stop of our whirlwind tour was to the Up Helly Aa exhibition which had been kept open especially for our visit. A fascinating insight in to this major event and the history of it from the key people involved – I would love to attend it but I am not sure my sea legs would cope with a January crossing. The rain started just as we returned to the ferry and resulted in some lovely rainbows above Lerwick as we departed for home. Once again we were extremely privileged to be allowed up on the bridge to observe the manoeuvring out of harbour and then once we were out of the "red zone" had the opportunity to speak with the captain. Arriving safely back in Aberdeen at 7am on Saturday it actually felt we had been away for several days – a fantastic trip and would definitely recommend you go explore for yourselves.