In the last 24 hours, many of you will have seen the coverage generated as a result of Outer Hebrides Tourism (OHT) action to raise the issue of the inadequate ferry service that Calmac proposes to run to the Outer Hebrides in 2015, says an OHT spokesperson.
In particular, the impact of ongoing works on the Stornoway-Ullapool route has been highlighted. It is critical that these works are postponed as a matter of urgency to minimise the negative publicity and impact for all our businesses.
We have cross party support for this which is unprecedented. OHT as the industry body, Hauliers, Hoteliers and the public all wanted and championed a two-ferry service for Ullapool-Stornoway, which would have seen existing piers able to service a dual ferry system and alleviate current ferry capacity issues that we have all experienced. This view was ignored by CMAL and other parties.
Instead we have a farcical situation with serial rather than parallel works for just the Loch Seaforth, undoubted cost implications and detrimental effects on our tourism industry, the islands’ premier revenue generator. £70m has been invested in the wrong solution and is a waste of public money.
All this sits on top of the existing ferry problems for the southern islands which means that a situation which was already bad is now critical in our view. Over the past two years, we have tried to move this forward positively for the industry through conversation with those involved, but now we see that was to no avail.
The latest construction delay that risks undoing all the good work we have done in recent years to encourage visitors to the island and negatively impacting our 2015 season is the last straw.
Whilst Derek MacKay MSP as Minister for Transport & Islands has finally convened a task force on the issue, he excluded the tourism industry from participation. Since this issue focusses on tourism, it is totally unacceptable that our industry is excluded. The only way to stop this continuing deterioration of our ferry services and avoid a tourism downturn, is for OHT and our members to get increasingly vocal in our opposition to put pressure on Calmac and the Scottish government to act.
A number of our tourist business members already report a downturn in enquiries and advance bookings compared with last year, cancellations due to the uncertainty and increased correspondence with guests about travel options, all adding to admin costs.
Picture the scene - by May, the Outer Hebrides could be heading into a serious economic downturn, with fewer bookings, increased freight costs and therefore even higher costs of goods … tourists who want the ‘island hopping experience’ may cancel with loss of revenue for businesses throughout the islands or delay their visit until summer which will simply add to ferry capacity problems again then …. the Harris community will be competing with its other island neighbours for the limited space on the ferry to Tarbert and its businesses will lose revenue … we see a ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’ situation with ships taken from other islands to cover the disruption... Harris, with our Skye neighbours, will have to brace themselves for the dangerously high traffic volumes that will ensue when work starts with all the additional car, caravan and freight traffic going through …. mainland suppliers and partners will also lose revenue and reputation… mainland Coach groups and package operators will have problems taking their tour groups to the islands … in Ullapool, it will look as though winter has returned as businesses lose significant tourist income with no car ferry traffic passing through for five weeks.
The OHT asks: Everyone with an interest in Tourism must now be vocal and support the call for an emergency summit on the islands to discuss this disruption and support the only viable solution to delay the works until next winter. Contact your local MSP/Councillor immediately with this message. The OHT needs evidence of the impact – let then know by 23 Jan if you are already experiencing problems directly linked to the uncertainty. Hotels and guest houses owners - talk to your tour operator partners and let us know by 23 Jan if you or they are impacted.