Feis Ile committee left facing 'significant difficulties' over lack of additional Islay ferry sailings

The annual Fèis Ìle, or Islay Festival, has been left facing significant difficulties after CalMac failed to provide the usual additional sailings for the nine day long event at the end of May.

Fèis Ìle is one of Scotland's most popular whisky and music festivals regularly brings in upwards of £10 million pounds to the local economy thanks to the numbers of visitors to the island. But now, the committee say it's in serious jeopardy if a solution cannot be found.

On the 6 March, it was confirmed that CalMac would not be providing the usual extra sailings provided to get the whisky-lovers and festival-goers over to join the party on Islay and Jura.

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This is despite other island festivals in the summer season having additional ferry support. The Fèis Ìle Committee have been campaigning for many weeks to achieve the additional sailings which would allow all the visitors to get over to the island, however, despite many meetings and support from MSP’s, they say that the Feis Ile Festival finds itself in 'a dire situation.'

It is thought that, due to the current ferry sailings, many people may miss out on Lagavulin day at this year's Feis Ile.It is thought that, due to the current ferry sailings, many people may miss out on Lagavulin day at this year's Feis Ile.
It is thought that, due to the current ferry sailings, many people may miss out on Lagavulin day at this year's Feis Ile.

Festival Chair Florence Grey said: “We have about 40 percent of our thousands of visitors who cannot get a sailing at all. The majority of our visitors who can get over, cannot bring their vehicles, which is in turn going to lead to a transport crisis on the island. Also, many people cannot get over for the start of the festival, which is a disaster for many of the Distillery open days.

"Fèis Ìle is a critical time for all of the island’s businesses and the whisky tourism industry, as well as a significant time in the calendar for our cultural events. Fèis Ìle has been going since 1986, it’s vital that this is not disrupted by ferry issues."

Festival Treasurer, Catherine MacTaggart added: “There seems to be a lack of understanding at Government level of just how much revenue this festival creates, not only for Islay and Jura, but also across the whole of Scotland. 55 percent of our visitors come from overseas: Europe, USA, Asia and even Australia. This has a knock-on effect on the whole Scottish economy as if they can’t get over for the festival, they won’t travel to Scotland at all.

“In addition, many of the local businesses rely on the money they make at festival time to get them through the quieter winter months. This shocking level of service will have repercussions long after the festival is held.”

The island’s accommodation providers are also facing a very difficult time as cancellations will follow this CalMac announcement but providers won’t be able to replace their bookings with no way of getting to the island. Many island businesses are already under significant pressure from the lack of sailings during the standard summer timetable, with lack of capacity and critical sailings removed, even before the issues with the festival have arisen.

All of the island distillers have already agreed to move their freight requirements to avoid the festival wherever possible (Islay has no freight ferry) and free up some capacity, however, the committee say that this is a drop in the ocean as to what is required.

Florence added: “It’s great to see the island’s distillers and business working together for the sake of our visitors – we’re doing everything we can – we now need help to get everyone here who wants to be.”

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The Committee understands that there is pressure across the CalMac network like never before, and that there will be new ferries coming, but that is little comfort to the festival goers who have everything booked, but cannot get a ferry.

A spokesperson for the committee said: "we feel that it is incumbent on the Scottish Government as a whole to sort this out – this is not just a CalMac issue. If CalMac cannot step up to the plate to support our islands then the Scottish Government needs to step in and solve the issues our islands are facing.

"We also find it inexcusable that the Tiree Music Festival and Eilean Dorcha Festivals both have had their additional sailings announced, but there is nothing for Islay, which brings in more to the local economy than both festivals combined, as well as so much to the wider Scottish economy."

Ben Shakespeare, a committee member who has been campaigning on this issue added: “We’re getting very frustrated at the continued mention of the new ferries, as if this is something that helps us. The issues are with 2024, the issues are urgent, and the consequences of not resolving this will be hugely damaging to our island economies. We need a solution.”

Mario A Campa, known for his social media, Sir Dramsalot, is from White Plains, New York called the situation a 'head scratcher.' He said: “I have been a regular attendee of the Fèis since 2015. I enjoy many very good friendships on the island and many globally because of the festival. Booking the ferry is a unique challenge. One can have accommodations and still not be able to get to the island. It's a head scratcher for all of us why the ferry schedule is not designed to accommodate the increased demand during the festival's first and last few days. Several of my friends are facing either missing the first two days or parking at Kennacraig and going the week without their vehicles. I'm certain I am a voice not only for my friends, but for so many others who make the pilgrimage from across the USA and wider world.”

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