Orkney is set for an economic boost with additional sailings being put into operation over the summer to encourage more people to take part in Year of Homecoming events on the islands.
The announcement of extra lunchtime sailings in May and September and an extension of the concessionary travel scheme for islanders by Transport Minister Keith Brown has been welcomed by Orkney Islands Council.
Councillor James Stockan, chair of the authority’s development and infrastructure committee, said: “Councillors and council officers have been working hard to secure these local demand-led improvements, and as a result, not only have we secured them, but we have also strengthened our relationship with the minister, which is important as we look to negotiations for the next contract period.
“The extension to the concessionary travel scheme will be of great benefit to people across Orkney.
“Today’s announcement of extra sailings is also good news for the two festivals concerned – the folk festival and blues festival – who very much rely on travel before and after the events.
“Not only does it indicate the Scottish Government’s commitment to supporting local festivals in the Year of Homecoming but also shows their commitment to the service and to the Stromness to Scrabster route.”
The extra sailings on the Pentland Firth route will be timetabled around events in May and September, like the Orkney Folk Festival, and come following partnership working between Transport Scotland, Orkney Islands Council and Serco NorthLink Ferries.
Eligible Orkney residents will also benefit from an extension to the National Concessionary Travel arrangements.
This will allow passengers travelling on the first sailing of the day from Stromness, using their entitlement card and vouchers, to book a cabin free of charge the evening before their sailing.
Vouchers for travel between April 2014 and March 2015 will arrive in early February to allow passengers to make advance bookings.
Mr Brown said: “Tourism is extremely important to the Orkney Islands and these additional sailings will allow more people to visit and take part in the exciting programme planned for the Year of Homecoming.
“Working with Orkney Islands Council, we have identified a series of key events where these extra sailings will encourage more people to make the trip across the Pentland Firth to be part of the celebrations.
“I’m also very pleased to announce the extension of the National Concessionary Travel scheme to cover the Scrabster to Stromness route.
“The NCT arrangements are already being well used on the Aberdeen-Lerwick route, so I hope all eligible Orkney residents will take advantage of the scheme that allows them to book overnight accommodation on the ferry ahead of their sailing.
“The Scottish Government is committed to improving the lifeline ferry services to Orkney wherever possible, and these measures will help local residents as well as provide a real boost for tourism in this second Year of Homecoming.”
Stuart Garrett, Managing Director at Serco NorthLink Ferries, commented: “These events are of great appeal so we are delighted to be able to accommodate those attending with the extra sailings.
“The Year of Homecoming is significant for Scotland as a whole as we look to showcase what makes this nation great. These sailings will enable more people to sample Orkney’s vibrant events calendar.
“We hope the National Concessionary Travel arrangements on the MV Hamnavoe are as popular as they are on the Lerwick and Kirkwall services.”
Orkney Islands Council sought the addition of several lunchtime sailings to the Pentland Firth timetable to coincide with the following cultural events planned in 2014, to facilitate visitors to the islands during the Year of Homecoming.
The following additional sailings have been added to the timetable:
* four additional lunchtime sailings on 22, 27, 29 and 30 May 2014 to support the Orkney Folk Festival in Stromness (22-25 May)
* two additional lunchtime sailings on 18 and 22 September 2014 to support the Orkney Blues Festival in Stromness (19-21 September)