Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has today spoken out in a parliamentary debate on the impact of the cruise industry on the economy, highlighting both the benefits and challenges brought to the isles from the growth of cruise visits. Mr Carmichael raised the need for the disruption of the pandemic to spur a “reboot” in the relationship between cruise operators and local communities, with government and trade organisations playing a vital role in rebalancing interactions.
Speaking during the debate, Mr Carmichael said:
“In recent years, the cruise industry has become one of the most important and, occasionally, controversial parts of the visitor economy in the Northern Isles. The industry has grown over the years, starting with just a few ships and gradually growing to more and bigger ships. As a consequence, we have lacked a strategic approach to the development of that part of the visitor economy. A good number of local businesses in Orkney and Shetland are now highly dependent on cruise traffic. There are also a number of self-employed tour guides who have grown an industry that simply was not there before. They have certainly missed cruise traffic; its return will be important.
“The absence of cruise ships since March 2020 and the beginning of their slow return is something that we should take opportunity from. I would like my communities to take a much more strategic approach to engaging with the industry, and I would like to see better engagement from the industry with my communities. In the past, the larger operators would often say “These are our terms of business; people can either take them or leave them.” I hope that as those operators rebuild and as we rebuild our relationship with them, we may be able to see that done rather differently.
“There are real opportunities for some of the most economically fragile communities in the Northern Isles: places such as Fair Isle. A small cruise boat coming into dock there can have a tremendous impact. However, again, to get the maximum benefit from a visit from a cruise ship, communities like that will require support from outside agencies. Local councils, VisitScotland, the local economic development agencies, the Scottish Government and the UK Government should all be pulling together to find a new strategic approach that will allow every community in the country that engages with the industry to do so in a better, more strategic way.
“There are all sorts of opportunities from the industry, but we have to accept that there is a diversity of opportunities and all need to be accommodated. This is the point at which we can reboot that relationship, and I hope Governments and other public agencies, the industry and communities can all work together to do exactly that.”