TOURIST information centres “have a place” in Scotland, Humza Yousaf has said – despite plans to shut every one of them.

The First Minister’s comment came as he defended VisitScotland plans to shut all of the 25 tourist information “iCentres” when quizzed by MSPs on Holyrood’s Convener Committee.

Yousaf was appearing before the senior group of MSPs on Wednesday when Labour’s Claire Baker raised the issue.

Baker, the convener of the Economy and Fair Work Committee, said: “VisitScotland have announced that they're going to close the remaining 25 iCentres. That was after 39 closed back in 2017-2019.

READ MORE: Where are the VisitScotland centres that will shut down? See the full list

“So I'd be interested to know: did the government know this announcement was coming this morning, what discussions you’ve had with VisitScotland about the closures, and if there's any evaluation being taken of the impact.

“Looking at where the centres are, five of them are in the islands and the majority of them are still in rural locations.”

Responding, Yousaf said he “completely” understands VisitScotland’s argument for the closures. The public body has said that people are using online services more and more and a “digital-first” approach to tourist information would be better moving forward.

However, Yousaf also said that tourist information centres “have a place” in Scotland.

The National: First Minister Humza Yousaf (Mike Boyd/PA)

The First Minister (above) told MSPs: “We have obviously regular discussions with Visit Scotland. I fully accept that there will be some level of concern around the announcement.

“I think there's also, though, a recognition that the way in which we seek information when we travel to tourist destinations has changed. Most of us here will use an app or we will go online.

“That is not to say that visitor centres, information centres, don't have a place. Among some people, they will find the use and interest of them.

“But the way in which people seek information, find information on tourist destinations is rapidly and vastly changed.

“My expectation of VisitScotland, and they know this, of course, would be to engage with the communities based in these tourist destinations, to ensure that they fully reassure them about what is in place in order for people to seek information about those destinations even when information centres are closed.”

Asked if VisitScotland had sufficient funding to improve its online offering, Yousaf said: “Yes, I'm confident that VisitScotland have what is required in terms of the appropriate levels of funding to enhance the digital offer.

“I would say their digital offer is very good at the moment. I think that probably most of us have used VisitScotland's website at some point or another. I think it's a very good digital offering indeed, but I think it can be enhanced.

“And of course, there could be savings that could be made, undoubtedly through the closure of the centres, as has been announced.”

READ MORE: 'Slap in the face': Grangemouth oil refinery to close despite posting £100m profit

He added that there “should be appropriate levels of engagement and consultation with the local communities, because there will be a number of more remote rural and island communities that may well be concerned about the announcement that's been made, but I completely understand the rationale and reasons for it”.

The comments come after the UK Government urged their Scottish counterparts to reconsider the closures.

Tory minister John Lamont said the closures would be a “blow to our towns and puts at a disadvantage the many thousands of tourists from the UK and beyond who use their services”.

VisitScotland have said that all the centres will run as normal until September, when phased closures will begin.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said:  “Decisions around how to best target resources and share information with visitors to Scotland are operational matters for VisitScotland. These proposals would bring VisitScotland into line with Visit England and Visit Wales, neither of which operate visitor centres.

"Importantly, VisitScotland will continue to engage with stakeholders and local businesses on this announcement.

“Tourism is an important sector of our economy. VisitScotland is key to promoting Scotland at home and abroad, supporting tourism businesses and maximising sustainable and responsible growth of the visitor economy.”