Ferry disruption hits Arran hotels

Unreliable service is damaging trade, say island operators

MV Caledonian Isles serves the Arran route.

By Jack Walsh

HOTELIERS on Arran suffered loss of trade after technical issues caused major disruption on the ferry crossing between the isle and the mainland.

Problems began earlier this month when both linkspans at Ardrossan port failed, which meant vehicles were unable to transfer from the ferry to the offloading ramp. The issue was further compounded as the back-up port at Gourock was also out of action; it has been closed since mid-September due to “an on-going technical issue” with its linkspan.

While CalMac continued to operate a passenger-only ferry service between Ardrossan and Brodick, the fault at the ports meant no vehicles could be transported to or from the island – resulting in last-minute hotel cancellations.

Craig Lindsay, deputy manager at The Douglas Hotel in Brodick, told SLTN that the 22-bedroom hotel was hit with eight cancellations in one day.

Meg El Adm, owner of the Lamlash Bay Hotel, said the hotel also received a raft of cancellations.

“We had a wedding party here when the linkspan failure happened,” she said. “So, the focus became less about the wedding and more about how they were going to get home.

“I think the worst thing was the communication wasn’t brilliant. They’d (CalMac) say there’d be an update at 11 o’clock and there wasn’t.

“The big factor is people don’t cancel until they know, so it can be very last minute at the end of the night, when it’s too late for us to re-sell the rooms.

“We’re supposed to be the most accessible island; we’re absolutely not.”

Commenting on the disruption, Robbie Drummond, CalMac managing director, said: “We appreciate this was an intensely frustrating experience for passengers, just as it was for us. This period of disruption was completely out with our control, and staff worked round the clock to keep Arran connected as best we could within the resources available to us.”

The technical problems at the Ardrossan and Gourock ports, operated by Peel Ports Group and Scottish Government-owned Caledonian Maritime Assets respectively, are not the only issues, with island hoteliers stating that the CalMac ferry service is often unreliable, affecting tourism.

Lindsay of The Douglas Hotel said: “The [smaller] ferry is cancelled every other day due to technical issues, so it’s not that reliable,” he said.

“Often it can ruin an entire weekend for us. If the disruption starts on a Friday, a lot of people will cancel because they don’t want to chance not getting home on the Sunday for work.”

Similarly, Adm of the Lamlash Bay Hotel said: “The fact it’s an aging ferry service, the boats are at the end of their lifespan – with the new ferry that’s supposed to be coming delayed by a few years now – so it’s a continual problem of breakdowns.”

Donald Forsyth, branch chair of the Institute of Directors Highlands and Islands, stressed the importance of a robust, reliable ferry service in order for island tourism to thrive.

He said: “As many island businesses rely on tourism, they also need a steady stream of people brought to their doors. Without these, remote businesses will soon feel the pinch, and need urgent action to ensure their vital transport links are protected.”

Two new ferries, including a new vessel for Arran, are currently being built at The Ferguson shipyard, which was nationalised by The Scottish Government earlier this year. A Scottish Government spokesperson said it aims to update parliament “by the end of this month” with a revised timetable for the completion of the vessels.