Thursday, October 8, 2009

Shetland Summer Ferry Capacity Increase Foiled

Proposals supported by the tourism industry in Shetlands to reduce the number of winter ferry trips between Lerwick and Aberdeen have been sunk. Ferry operator NorthLink confirmed earlier this week that none of their proposed changes, which would have allowed extra summer sailings between Orkney and Shetland, will now be implemented.

Earlier this year NorthLink had floated the idea of daytime sailings between Lerwick and Kirkwall to ease pressure on cabin spaces during the busy summer tourist season but since no extra money from the Scottish government would have been available for such a move, the company proposed cutting the frequency of winter sailings to cover the cost.

Shetland transport partnership ZetTrans rejected the idea after consulting the local fishing and fish farming industry, who said they needed the daily overnight service to Aberdeen to get their produce to the market during the winter months. Shetland's tourism industry, however, was very much in favour of the proposal as it would have increased passenger capacity and encouraged people to invest in visitor facilities.
At present, the limited number of cabins on board the two ferries Hjaltland and Hrossey is seen as a major obstacle in attempts to attract more holidaymakers to the isles.

Shetland Tourism Association chairman Steven Henry said yesterday that this, combined with an influx of construction workers to help build new schools and ferry terminals, would strangle the tourism industry.

"It will be a complete nightmare for the next few years," Mr Henry said.

He added that it was crucial that the tourism industry was listened to in the run up to the re-tendering of the NorthLink contract in 2012.

"If we could get ferry times for the new contract sorted out, that would work a lot better. A lot of people have been put off from coming to Shetland. If you can't get here, then you will forget about Shetland," he said.

A NorthLink spokesman said: "The possibility of carrying out return daytime sailings between Lerwick and Kirkwall during the time when the vessel is normally berthed in Lerwick, and thus providing additional capacity in the summer, was floated as a discussion point. Soundings were taken from a number of quarters and the issue went out to consultation. The concept didn't find favour with ZetTrans and, accordingly, was taken no further."

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