SHETLAND Islands Council and local transport partnership ZetTrans are seeking urgent talks with Transport Scotland over the cancellation of group bookings on NorthLink ferry services next year.
ZetTrans chairman councillor Ryan Thomson said the decision from operator Serco NorthLink Ferries was “both surprising and disappointing” – while he described it as “very premature and yet another hammer-blow to the suffering tourism industry in Shetland”.
“There can be no awareness in Transport Scotland of what the knock on effects are of a decision such as this to local businesses and the community, as there has been no dialogue or input from the community,” he added.
Council leader Steven Coutts, meanwhile, said the local authority heard the news through the media on Wednesday.
“We learned through Twitter of the imposition of transport restrictions, and removal of vessels, at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the councillor continued.
“To see a repeat of significant announcements being made without any discussion with the council is extremely regrettable, and I will be seeking an urgent dialogue with government on this issue. Decisions having such an impact on our community should be made with us, not imposed on us.”
Coutts said the decision will “significantly undermine our tourism and hospitality sector in Shetland, an industry that has suffered more than most, but played a really strong part in the wider control of the Covid-19 pandemic”.
“We clearly do not know where Shetland will be come 2021, but to see this decision made in this manner is really damaging to public confidence,” he said.
Thomson said that ZetTrans would also write to Transport Scotland, “insisting on getting answers as to how and why this decision was made, and why it was made without local stakeholder engagement”.
The decision to ditch group and tour bookings for the whole of 2021 was met with dismay by local hotelier Robert Smith, who said it was “simply beyond belief”.
Emma Miller of the Shetland Tourism Association also described the move as disappointing.
On Wednesday commercial director for NorthLink Ferries Jim Dow said the operator is “continuing to closely review the situation and we hope to be able to change this if circumstances allow”.
He said the “provisional decision will help us support islanders and visitors with their forward bookings and avoid further cancellations”.
A spokesperson Transport Scotland, the government agency which awards the contract for the Northern Isles ferry routes, added: “The situation will be kept under review and it may be possible to open up more capacity on the booking system when there is greater certainty these bookings can be honoured.”
Become a supporter of Shetland News
Shetland News is asking its many readers to consider start paying for their dose of the latest local news delivered straight to their PC, tablet or mobile phone.
Journalism comes at a price and because that price is not being paid in today’s rapidly changing media world, most publishers - national and local - struggle financially despite very healthy audience figures.
Most online publishers have started charging for access to their websites, others have chosen a different route. Shetland News currently has over 440 supporters who are all making small voluntary financial contributions. All funds go towards covering our cost and improving the service further.
Your contribution will ensure Shetland News can: -
- Bring you the headlines as they happen;
- Stay editorially independent;
- Give a voice to the community;
- Grow site traffic further;
- Research and publish more in-depth news, including more Shetland Lives features.
If you appreciate what we do and feel strongly about impartial local journalism, then please become a supporter of Shetland News by either making a single payment or monthly subscription.
Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.Support Shetland News