PEOPLE in Lewis and Harris are being urged to help accommodate visitors to the Hebridean Celtic Festival as its popularity continues.
With the annual award-winning festival less than three weeks away an appeal has gone out to local people with hotel and guest house beds already at a premium.
Last year the event, based in Stornoway in Lewis, attracted an audience of 14,500 - 46 per cent of whom were visitors to the area, including fans from across Europe, the USA and Canada.
Demand for tickets this year show that figure is on target to be matched despite widespread economic difficulties affecting other events.
Alastair Lockett, VisitScotland’s visitor services team leader for the Outer Hebrides, said: “HebCelt is a major event for the islands and draws an audience from across the globe. We are expecting a surge of enquiries as the event gets nearer and we need help from local people to help us ensure everyone is found a bed.”
Anyone who has any spare accommodation and would be willing to take visitors into their home for festival week should contact the VisitScotland Tourist Information Centre in Cromwell Street, Stornoway on 01851 703088 or email Stornoway@visitscotland.com
The festival, now in its 17th year, will run from 11-14 July and will be headlined by The Waterboys, The Proclaimers and Kassidy.
Caledonian MacBrayne is providing an extra ferry service between Stornoway and Ullapool on the morning of Sunday, July 15, to cope with the increased traffic returning to the mainland at the end of the festival.
The extra service will leave Stornoway at 7a.m. on 15 July, arriving in Ullapool at 9.45a.m. It will then return at 10.25a.m., arriving in Stornoway at 1.10p.m. The scheduled service will leave Stornoway as normal at 2.30p.m, arriving in Ullapool at 5.15p.m. and returning at 6.15p.m.
Scottish Citylink has also arranged additional bus cover for the early morning sailing to take passengers from Ullapool to Inverness.
Festival Director Caroline MacLennan said: “Demand for accommodation during the festival is always at a premium and we want to ensure that visitors will be able to come to the islands confident that they will have somewhere to stay.
“The fact that CalMac are putting on an extra Sunday ferry highlights perfectly just how busy we expect to be.
“Our audience comes from far and wide and a morning ferry on Sunday gives some the opportunity to get an early start and make connections to get home. It also means the dispersal of crowds on Sunday is staggered and creates the minimum of disruption.”
Mary Ann Campbell, regional manager (Lewis) for CalMac Ferries Ltd, said: “Caledonian MacBrayne is delighted to be able to support the Hebridean Celtic Festival by providing this additional ferry service.
“HebCelt is an integral part of the Western Isles calendar, and highlights in many ways the culture of our island communities.
“We look forward to the festival and wish the organisers every success and hope our visitors to this year’s event have a wonderful time while visiting our islands.”
And Aiden Proctor, commercial manager, Scottish Citylink Coaches Ltd, added: “We’re pleased to be able to assist festival goers by providing this additional service for their homeward journey and we hope everyone will have a great time at the event.”
For more information and a full-line up of artists performing at this year’s Hebridean Celtic Festival, visit www.hebceltfest.com