Holidays cancelled as tourists fail to secure ferry tickets

Tourists are cancelling island holiday accommodation bookings as social distancing regulations make it impossible for many to secure ferry places to travel to Scotland’s remote communities.

Passenger distancing on CalMac ferries has been reduced from 2 metres to 1m from today.
Passenger distancing on CalMac ferries has been reduced from 2 metres to 1m from today.

Space restrictions on ferry routes due to the coronavirus outbreak mean that only a small number of tickets are available for each sailing to Scottish islands.

The four star Aucrannie Hotel resort on Arran has lost 20 per cent of its bookings for its self catering accommodation as visitors struggled to obtain tickets from ferry operator CalMac, which have been released in a block every two weeks.

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If tourists do not manage to bag a return ticket through the online booking system, they have no option but to cancel their holiday.

While self catering properties have been allowed to operate since 3 July, hotels and other tourism businesses are set to open next Wednesday.

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said: “One hotel on Arran has seen 40 people cancel this past weekend when the latest set of ferry bookings opened as a result of not being able to get on the boat.

"The problem is that while they actually have one of the highest occupancy rates of hotels throughout Scotland at the moment, they are just not going to be able to get people there. We still need more certainty and guidance.”

CalMac’s ferries were due to increase their capacity today after the 2 metre social distancing rule was reduced to 1m, but available space will still remain far lower than usual.

Mr Crothall added: “Even once the one metre rule is lifted, you will not see the same volume of passengers which we usually have going to the likes of Islay and the Hebrides at this time of year, it’s just not possible. The basic fact is that you just cannot get a lot of people there this year.”

It is expected that ferries will also have to give over some space to accommodate quarantine areas, to transport passengers who have become ill with coronavirus while on holiday. During the lockdown, only people who had a main residence on a Scottish island were allowed to travel there.

Fiona Campbell, chief executive of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, said: “There are huge problems for the islands at the moment. One is the reluctance of some island communities to have tourists back because of the spread of the virus, but the other is being able to get there and if people can’t get ferry tickets to get to their holiday, they are just having to cancel.”

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Robbie Drummond, managing director for CalMac, said from today, booking would be opened to four weeks in advance.

He said: “This will significantly help island businesses reliant on visitors. We will soon be able to open bookings up for the remainder of the season - up to 18 October - and will update customers when we have more information to share.”

He added: “We have also been advised, following our risk assessments and review of mitigations to ensure safety of crew and passengers, we can move to a social distancing of 1m on board rather than 2m.

“This will result in more capacity being released across our network – however, things won’t go back to ‘normal’. Although the number of passengers we can carry will increase, the capacity per vessel will still be limited.”

Gordon Hay, spokesman for the Auchrannie Hotel, said: “We have lost around 20 per cent of bookings in recent times as a result of people being unable to travel. However, we are hoping that as ferry capacity increases, our concerns will be resolved in the next few weeks.”

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