The earlier departure time from Stromness being blamed for cancellations. View more photographs at www.orkneyphotographic.co.uk
Serco Northlink ferries are to hold a new round of "community engagement" events in Orkney next week as criticism mounts over their revised timetable and reduced service to Orkney.
Hoteliers and accommodation providers in Orkney are experiencing additional cancellations which they claim are a direct result of Serco's decision to shorten the "summer" timetable from the one that previously operated.
Scottish Ministers urged to intervene over publicly funded ferry service
Chair of the Orkney Tourism Group Gareth Crichton has written to Scottish Ministers Fergus Ewing and Keith Brown urging them to intervene before any more bookings are lost.
Tour operators and individual visitors have cited the 6.30am departure of the Hamnavoe from Stromness as a reason behind the spate of cancellations.
Mr Crichton told Orkney News Today that Serco seemed unable to offer a reasonable explanation for not moving the current 6:30am sailing to a later time.
Earlier departure time is response to passenger demand claim Serco and Transport Scotland
But a spokesman for Transport Scotland, the Government agency responsible for the £243m lifeline contract with Serco, told ONT there was passenger led demand for the earlier departure.
In a statement they claimed support for the revised timetable was reflected in a "significant" up take in bed and breakfast bookings aboard the vessel the night before departure.
The Hamnavoe has just twelve berths for those wishing to take advantage of the overnight B&B option Serco Northlink offer. The vessel is capable of transporting 600 passengers.
Government agency claim non-subsidised Pentland Ferries offer additional choice for passengers
Transport Scotland also claimed that other ferry options exist for the travelling public, in the form of the non-subsidised Pentland Ferries route, operated by Andrew Banks.
"Serco Northlink report that passenger numbers on the morning sailing have actually increased since the timetable was updated," said the Transport Scotland spokesman, "and with Pentland Ferries operating a 7.45am service, there are a range of daily sailing options available to meet the needs of visitors, islanders and commercial customers."
Serco “confident” revised timetable meets the needs of all ferry users
He added that Serco were "confident" the revised service timetable was meeting the needs of all ferry users.
Exact details of the latest round of "engagement" events have not yet been released by Serco or Transport Scotland.
Connecting transport links disrupted as a result of the changes say Hoteliers
Lorna Munson who owns the family run Merkister Hotel at Harray believes the company have not properly listened to concerns from accommodation providers in Orkney. She told ONT, "I've had cancellations from people who normally come every year. Those cancellations are because of this revised timetable.
"I've heard that Historic Scotland have said they expect their tour numbers to be down as well," said Lorna.
She added that the train timetables at Thurso are yet to be amended to fit in with the revised Serco Northlink sailings. That means some foot passengers have a five hour wait in Thurso after making the crossing before they can continue their onward journey.
"People are just not prepared to do that," Lorna added.
Northlink point to 7.5% rise in passenger numbers
Stuart Garrett, Managing Director of NorthLink ferries, told ONT, "Passenger numbers on the Northern Isles ferry services are 7.5 per cent up on last year and we look forward to working with local tourism businesses to further grow these numbers.
“Supporting the tourism industry is key to our strategy to grow demand for the service and we are working very closely with VisitScotland and VisitOrkney to encourage more people the Northern Isles,” Stuart added.
“We launched our marketing campaign ‘Far Isn't Far ‘ in February to attract tourists to the Northern Isles and to local businesses."