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News / Travel expert warns tourism prospects could be damaged if summer ferry bookings aren’t opened up soon

A WELL-known travel expert says the fact that people cannot book journeys on the NorthLink ferry service beyond April is in danger of damaging tourism to Shetland.

Travel journalist and broadcaster Simon Calder said without certainty over bookings some people may think twice about choosing Shetland as a holiday destination.

It comes after the issue was raised again at a meeting of Lerwick Community Council on Monday.

At the moment people can only book for trips to Shetland and Orkney up to the end of the financial year, with government agency Transport Scotland – which contracts Serco NorthLink to run the lifeline service – saying this is because longer term fares have not yet been set.

Simon Calder.

Ferry fares will stay unchanged until the end of March to help combat the cost of living crisis. They usually rise in January in line with the consumer price index.

Calder said: “The decision not to open bookings for the summer – and beyond – is in danger of damaging tourism prospects.

“Right now, people want to settle their holiday plans and look forward to the adventure.

“And if NorthLink can’t provide that certainty, I fear some potential visitors will simply look elsewhere.”

Lerwick community councillor Stewart Hay also suggested it was stunting tourism to Shetland in a year when the Tall Ships Races will visit the isles, while he added the West Coast CalMac ferries were in the same situation.

Chairman Jim Anderson said it was also affecting local people looking to get away in the Easter holidays.

The topic was raised during a discussion about a survey being undertaken by local partnership ZetTrans on future transport strategy.

The community council agreed to write a letter to raise the bookings issue.

VisitScotland’s Steve Mathieson was at the meeting and said there had been no indication yet as to when bookings would open post-March.

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A Transport Scotland spokesman said on Tuesday that work is still ongoing to release bookings as soon as possible.

“We want our transport system to be affordable and accessible,” he said.

“A decision on ferry fares for 2023 requires some additional time and consideration given the current high inflation rate and ongoing cost of living crisis.

“We fully appreciate the need to get bookings released for Easter and summer timetables so that businesses and individuals can plan ahead. We are working with both our operators to confirm fares and release bookings from April as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile Hay also felt there is a “gross disparity” at play when it comes to hopes in Shetland for the ferry service and the long-term intentions of Transport Scotland.

“It seems if we are in one world and Transport Scotland is in another,” he said.

It recently published a draft long-term plan for vessels and ports on the Clyde and Hebrides and Northern Isles networks as part of its new Islands Connectivity Plan.

There are proposals to replace both the freight and passenger vessels on the Northern Isles route, but the timing has caused some concern.

It says replacement of the two freighters would likely take place between 2026 and 2031.

During this time period the development and procurement of replacements for the passenger vessels would begin – but the delivery of these is slated for the period between 2031-36.

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