CalMac ferries to provide taste of local culture

CalMac's Caledonian Isles docks at Brodick. Picture: Ian Rutherford

CalMac's Caledonian Isles docks at Brodick. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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REGULARS on board Caledonian MacBrayne’s Scottish ferry services are used to being served big plates of carb-laden fare in no-nonsense style as they plough their way across choppy waters surrounded by men in sou’westers.

But that looks set to change under plans by the ferry company to introduce pop-up tastings, fashion shows and pop music to entertain visitors as they head to Scotland’s islands.

In a move designed to give tourists a flavour of what awaits them, CalMac will serve locally produced island food and drink, along with tourist information via free wi-fi. Details of places to visit on the island where the ferry is heading will be sent to passengers’ mobile phones and via smartphone apps.

The “sense of destination” package will be available on ferries to the Hebrides. Clyde routes, such as to Arran, will also be included.

The Scottish Government-owned firm, which operates 25 west coast routes, is also hoping to lure more younger passengers with music and film competitions.

Budding musicians will vie for performance slots at the Tiree Music Festival in the second year of a contest at King Tut’s in Glasgow.

Movie-makers will have the chance to make a short film promoting the islands to be used in this year’s CalMac advertising campaign.

The firm hopes it will inspire potential visitors with stunt cyclist Danny MacAskill’s film on the Cuillin mountain range in Skye, which has been watched 30 million times.

CalMac commercial director Cathy Craig told a Scottish Tourism Alliance conference in Glasgow last week: “Passengers want things to do on board and a sense of destination. We will showcase local provenance as part of the transportation, and provide free wi-fi at ports and on board our ships – which is a basic customer expectation.”

Craig said destination information relevant to each type of passenger – such as families with young children – would be made available via downloadable phone apps.

She said the arts competitions were aimed at selling the islands to young people more attracted to music festivals than traditional “blue skies and beaches” holidays.

Tourism body VisitArran said it was delighted with CalMac’s new approach and the main ferry on the Ardrossan-Brodick route had become an ambassador for the island.

Executive director Sheila Gilmore said: “Our own visitor surveys have shown the food on board has had absolutely fantastic reviews.

“The MV Caledonian Isles provides a great introduction for a lot of Arran produce, including cheese, ice cream, chocolate, whisky, tablet and mustard – and halibut from Gigha.”

Gilmore said wi-fi was also a vital element for tourists, since most visitors chose their holidays from recommendations by family and friends.

She said three in four travellers from the United States used social media when travelling – such as posting photographs of islands like Arran on Facebook.

VisitScotland said CalMac was building on the culinary accolade awarded last month to seven of its ferries, including the Caledonian Isles.

The accreditation is the same as that received by prestigious restaurants such as the Three Chimneys in Skye, Martin Wishart in Edinburgh and at Loch Lomond, and the Ubiquitous Chip in Glasgow,

Half of the ingredients used to make CalMac menus are now Scottish. A total of 44 of the operator’s 67 catering suppliers are from the islands, with a further 18 from elsewhere in Scotland.

VisitScotland chairman Mike Cantlay said: “It is great to see companies such as ­CalMac going the extra mile to make holidays more memorable.

“Recognising the fact a holiday begins with the journey is a terrific way of improving the overall visitor experience. CalMac has already become the first ferry operator to achieve Taste Our Best accreditation, and any initiative that makes travelling more interesting and more convenient, such as serving local food and offering free wi-fi, is to be ­welcomed.”

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