'Scotland is missing the boat' as cruise liner tourists sail on by

SCOTLAND is failing to fully exploit the booming cruise liner market because of a "shocking" lack of marketing and large enough city docks, a leading industry commentator has told The Scotsman.

The country should be the third most popular European cruise destination after the Mediterranean and the Baltic, but it was "way down the list", according to Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of the CruiseCritic.com website.

Ms Spencer Brown said Scotland was "fantastically popular" among cruise passengers, but its marketing and port facilities were "behind where they should be".

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She said tourism officials were failing to promote events and new attractions to lure passengers ashore, while the lack of berths for large ships forced them to dock miles from major tourist draws such as Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Ms Spencer Brown was speaking yesterday aboard the MS Westerdam, a Holland America cruise ship docked off South Queensferry because the 82,000-ton vessel is too large for Leith. She said some of its 1,700 passengers would have been put off visiting Edinburgh by the lengthy transfer required by boat and coach.

She said there were similar problems with the distance between the Greenock cruise liner terminal and Glasgow, and Invergordon port and Inverness.

Nearly 250,000 cruise passengers are expected to visit Scotland this year, spending some 24 million, with the market forecast to grow by 7 to 8 per cent in 2011 - faster than other parts of the Scottish tourist industry. A new generation of ships with attractions for younger passengers such as ice-skating rinks, kayaks and even Apple stores is helping to fuel the boom.

Ms Spencer Brown, a veteran of hundreds of cruises, said: "Edinburgh is one of the most magical cities, but our readers hate coming to South Queensferry because it takes 45 minutes to one hour to get to Edinburgh, which limits their time there.

"By contrast, in Belfast, cruise ships can dock in the city, which is very organised in aggressively going after the cruise traveller.

"None of the ports in Scotland are as motivated as they could be in marketing and infrastructure. I find it shocking it is not organised more than it is. Last year's Homecoming Scotland could have been a fantastic cruise story.

"Edinburgh is very popular, but it could be so much more popular. That Scotland is growing as quickly as it is without the infrastructure shows its appeal.

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"Scotland has so much to offer. I do not understand why it is not the number three destination in Europe - not behind other areas such as the Norwegian fjords and river cruises. It is the most magical country for tourists, with its history, sophisticated culture and natural habitat."

She added that cruise passengers' impressions of Scotland were crucial in generating repeat visits.

However, Cruise Scotland, which promotes the country to cruise operators, said the market was growing faster than other parts of Scottish tourism, with ports such as Invergordon, Orkney and Portree forecasting record numbers of visitors next year.

Spokesman Gordon Ireland said: "Scotland is the leading sector of the British Isles for inbound cruise tourism, attracting 38 per cent of all cruise calls, excluding turnrounds.

"Almost all of the major cruise lines include Scottish ports of call in their itineraries. The cruise industry is very buoyant and optimistic.

"The ports of Invergordon and Greenock both have groups of volunteer 'Welcome Hosts' who meet and greet arriving cruise passengers.

"Cruise Scotland aims to roll out this best practice around the country to provide the best possible welcome for visiting cruise passengers."

Denise Hill, VisitScotland's head of international marketing, said: "VisitScotland is working closely with Cruise Scotland to develop a strategic approach for the industry to exploit current and future opportunities presented by the cruise sector."

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Ms Hill added: "Growth potential is strong from the North American, German and southern European markets - a major focus of VisitScotland's marketing campaigns which aim to continue to drive up demand among international travellers."

Vessels give us a wide berth

CROWN Princess, Princess Cruises' 113,500-ton vessel, is among the largest cruise ships to visit Scotland this year.

The 3,100-passenger ship is calling at Greenock, Invergordon and the Forth, for Edinburgh, several times this summer as part of cruises of western Europe.

Other sizeable visitors include Cunard's new 90,000-ton Queen Victoria, with capacity for some 2,000 passengers, which made its maiden visit to Greenock last month.

However, the biggest liners will not be visiting Scotland, including Royal Caribbean's 252,000-ton Oasis of the Seas, which with space for up to 6,300 passengers is the world's longest and largest passenger vessel.