FERRY STRIKE: OHT demands real action to support tourism industry

Outer Hebrides Tourism (OHT) is calling for all parties involved in the dispute between RMT and Calmac to sit down and resolve the situation which they say has already caused massive disruption to visitors to the Outer Hebrides, and will cause further damage to the fragile tourism economy.

Donald Macarthur, OHT Spokesman on Transport commented: “The tourism economy in the Outer Hebrides has already suffered major impacts in the past year arising from the lack of a fit for purpose ferry service to all parts of the islands and poor communications with business customers - a long running issue with a meaningless trial on the Mallaig to Lochboisdale route was followed by an unprecedented suspension of services between Ullapool and Stornoway during the start of the peak visitor season this spring.”

In a recent business survey, over 75% of tourism businesses across the islands have already reported a significant drop in trade during the start of the 2015 visitor season and their chance to redress some of these losses has been set back by this dispute. OHT say that instead of welcoming visitors from around the world, tourism businesses are instead seeing short notice cancellations by unhappy visitors unable to make the journey to start their holiday, or cutting trips short to leave the islands while they still can. We can only thank our tourism business owners for their practical efforts to help visitors and minimise the impact on their holiday experience.

Ian Fordham, Chairman of Outer Hebrides Tourism said: “It is totally unacceptable that 100’s of our tourism businesses, and 1000’s of our visitors should be made to suffer as a result of this dispute. Action has been too little, too late. We are reading press statements from Government and mainland-based tourism bodies but no real action. Fergus Ewing has stated that his Scottish Government officials are liaising with local tourism groups – we are still waiting. As the organisation representing tourism businesses across the Outer Hebrides, we say time is running out.”

OHT is seeking proper compensation to be paid to visitors who have had to cancel or change their travel plans, and compensation to businesses who have lost yet another part of their short visitor season. Current proposals for traveller compensation fall far short of what OHT believe is needed.

Ian concluded: “The experience of a holiday in the Outer Hebrides is renowned around the world. We would just call on the Scottish public to take the opportunity to show their support for their islands by choosing to ‘staycation’ in the Outer Hebrides! We can guarantee, however you travel to this glorious destination, whatever time of year, you will be sure of a warm welcome, spectacular scenery and a holiday that will live much longer in the memory than the current industrial action!”