Scottish transport leaves tourists bewildered

Scotrail's Caledonian Sleeper'. Picture: Norman McNab
Scotrail's Caledonian Sleeper'. Picture: Norman McNab
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OVERSEAS visitors to Skye are hampered by poor transport information but those heading for Edinburgh enjoy seamless travel, a VisitBritain report claims today.

The UK tourism agency said Scotland catered for visitors better than south of the Border, but criticised the “bewildering” range of train fares and transport operators failing to meet tourists’ needs.

It said rail fares in Britain “were among the highest in the world in relation to distance covered, and that they may constitute a substantial barrier for the overseas visitor contemplating a trip out of London”.

VisitBritain said information about ScotRail’s Caledonian Sleeper for tourists travelling from London to Mallaig and Skye was tricky to find and prices were confusing.

It said the main Skye website – – “appears wordy and slow to navigate”.

The report stated: “Given the distance involved, it is perhaps not surprising the journey to Mallaig and Skye is more complex than many destinations nearer to London. The convenience of travelling overnight by rail to Fort William is offset by the obscure booking arrangements, and the need for an onward connection to reach Skye.”

However, VisitBritain scored Edinburgh highest among 20 British tourist destinations, describing it as “easy to reach and good value in terms of public transport”.

It said travel, “by all modes, scores very highly, with frequent through-journeys and good access to a range of key destinations in Edinburgh.”

The report also rated information about the city – the UK’s second most visited after London – as “very good”.

It said London-Edinburgh rail and air travel was “moderately priced by UK standards”, and coach fares were even cheaper.

However, the complexity of booking train tickets was criticised. VisitBritain said: “Although there is only one principal train operator involved [East Coast], an overseas visitor would encounter a bewildering variety of fares, particularly as East Coast is currently trying to push up its sales of first-class tickets through various special offers.”

The report also highlighted the lack of tourist information in other languages across Britain, but Edinburgh Airport was praised for providing guides in French, German, Italian, Spanish and Polish.

Megabus – part of Perth-based Stagecoach Group – was saluted for having a website in four other languages and a simplified payment system for overseas passengers.

Also commended was Virgin Trains, which operates cross-Border services, for launching joint travel and visitor attraction admission packages with tour operators.

VisitBritain said rail travel within Scotland was easier than elsewhere because of the single operator – ScotRail – while coach travel north of the Border was streamlined by Scottish 
CityLink, enabling through-bookings with local bus operators.

A ScotRail spokeswoman said: “We have improved our website to make it easier for Sleeper customers to use.” She said a range of fares were offered.

An East Coast spokesman said it offered a range of fares and deals, with help available from its website, travel centres and helpline.

Aileen Robertson, of the Skye and Lochalsh Marketing Group, which runs the Skye website, said: “We are redeveloping our website and hope transport providers will take this opportunity to work more closely with us.”

VisitScotland chief executive Malcolm Roughead said: “It is important we continue to improve and expand travel options right across the country.”