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Transport / NorthLink having a busy summer – but no sign of shared cabins or autumn bookings opening

Photo: NorthLink Ferries

SERCO NorthLink has revealed that services to and from Shetland experienced their busiest May on record last month.

Stuart Garrett, managing director at Serco NorthLink, told Shetland’s external transport forum on Tuesday that 6,977 cabins were sold last month alone.

Nearly 3,000 pods were sold in May this year, compared to 1,992 last year.

Passenger numbers to and from Aberdeen are up 25 per cent from the first quarter in 2022.

The boats are set to run near full capacity for much of June and July – leading to frustration among those trying to book on the ferry.

Garrett said the data combined with looking at the “coverage that Shetland gets, whether it’s the Attenborough programme, whether it’s the Shetland detective series…Shetland is definitely up there in terms of top tourist attractions”.

Shetland West councillor Liz Peterson brought up the survey currently being carried out by isles MSP Beatrice Wishart.

MSP launches survey on NorthLink bookings

Peterson said NorthLink provides “a great service but it’s not enough for the people of Shetland”.

She said that it is clear from the increase in demand that Shetlanders “need more” or else it will continue to be “detrimental” to people and businesses in the isles.

Garrett said that he had seen the headlines following Wishart’s survey regarding people missing funerals because they could not make a booking, but they were “not issues that were brought to my attention”.

He reiterated that “there is always passenger capacity” even if cabins are unavailable.

Garrett also stated that it is “categorically not the case” that construction workers are making large block bookings for cabins, but that the group tour market remains popular.

However, they never allow more than two coaches per sailing to book cabins.

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Currently NorthLink’s system is only accepting bookings up until 30 September.

Brian Gordon from Transport Scotland said he is “acutely aware of the impact” this is having on islanders and that the government agency is currently working with ministers to set fares for October onwards.

There still is no sign of shared cabins returning either on the Northern Isles ferry service after they were stopped during the Covid pandemic.

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