SCOTLAND’S £49 million cruise industry is on course for another record-breaking season after welcoming the highest number of passengers on board last year.
The trend towards larger vessels is expected to see a further increase in travellers this season, which is set to witness the first direct sailing from Scotland to the Caribbean.
According to figures from trade body Cruise Scotland, 457 vessels carried 401.325 passengers in 2014, an increase in tourist numbers of more than 4 per cent on the previous year.
Although the number of vessels booked for the current year is broadly unchanged, passenger numbers are tipped to rise to about 434,530 as operators deploy larger ships to meet the growing appeal of Scotland as a cruising destination.
Stuart Leven, the Scots-born UK and Ireland managing director of cruise holiday company Royal Caribbean, recently said the firm has made a “very strong start to the year” from Scotland, adding that travellers from north of the Border are more likely than the UK average to book another cruise within two years of setting sail.
Increased demand also means the season has been extended, running from early March to the middle of December. The final call will be on 15 December, when passengers disembark from Fred Olsen’ 804-berth Black Watch at Greenock.
Travellers on the Black Watch will have set off the previous month for an island-hopping cruise to the likes of Antigua and Barbados – marking the first direct sailing to the Caribbean from a Scottish port.
The growing popularity of cruising – once seen as an elitist pursuit only for well-heeled retirees – means Greenock Ocean Terminal is set to become Scotland’s first port to welcome more than 100,000 passengers.
July will see another Scottish first, when Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Magic docks at Kirkwall on its only UK stop on a trip to Norway and Iceland. Meanwhile, the Queen Mary 2 is set for its maiden call at Oban in May on a ten-night trip to mark Cunard Line’s 175th anniversary.
Cruise Scotland chairman Victor Sandison said: “The combination of the multitude of Scotland’s attractions and the quality of facilities and services, supported by our marketing efforts, are delivering results and making a major contribution to the Scottish economy, as last year’s records and this season’s positive outlook demonstrate.”
The trade body’s forecasts were released as its members prepare to head for the US for a global industry event. Cruise Shipping Miami, which runs from 16 to 19 March, will see almost 900 exhibitors and more than 11,000 attendees from around the world descend on the Florida city to meet suppliers and tie up deals.
Cruise Scotland has 17 full members, comprising 15 ports and two ground handlers, and four associate members, the latest to join being Lochaber Chamber of Commerce.
SUBSCRIBE TO THE SCOTSMAN’S BUSINESS BRIEFING