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By Hugh Boag
It could be the save of the season for Arran’s beleaguered tourism industry.
CalMac have confirmed they will increase capacity on the Arran ferry routes this summer, meaning more visitors will be able to get to the island when tourism opens from July 15.
And there was more good news for the hospitality sector on Wednesday when First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced beer gardens could reopen from July 6.
It has emerged that while capacity on the MV Caledonian Isles will remain severely limited it will have at least 100 passengers per sailing, with talks continuing on the use of outdoor space. The early arrival of the second summer ferry, the MV Isle of Arran, will give nine sailings on the Ardrossan to Brodick route from mid-July, with the Lochranza to Cloanaig summer timetable resuming from the same time.
It will also come as a relief for islanders travelling to the mainland and CalMac will publish the new timetable on their website today (Friday), which will run for two weeks from the end of the month. A further updated timetable will be published on July 2.
All of which will come as a massive relief for hotels, B&Bs and self catering providers who already have numerous bookings as well as restaurants and bars and shops.
There had been serious fears that the 2020 season could be wiped out on Arran and that the island would be left adrift if people simply could not get to the island and went elsewhere.
However, the Arran Ferry Committee has been working hard behind the scenes with CalMac and Transport Scotland to develop capacity plans which support the island’s agreed priorities for essential supplies and services and residents’ ability to travel.
A ferry committee spokesman said: ‘We have held constructive discussion with CalMac which appear to be allowing the following improvements:
- Introduction of the Caledonian Isles from July 1 with an initial capacity of 100 passengers. We continue to discuss how this could be complemented by including outside seating capacity. Further work is required on this matter which we will continue to progress.
- The Isle of Arran to enter service earlier than proposed and now expected to be available from July 15, which is two weeks ahead of the initial plan. This will operate a full summer timetable but we will now get some additional sailings over the weekend by not diverting resources to support Campbelltown.
All this will provide at least the same sailings as previous years between Ardrossan and Brodick.
- The introduction of the Lochranza to Claonaig service from July 15 for the rest of the summer timetable.
- ‘All this will now provide a normal summer timetable with social distancing influencing the capacity. These limits are set by government policy and we have provided information to Scottish Government as to the impact this ruling has on capacity and the economy. CalMac have indicated they can react to any change in government policy with minimum delay.
‘There are still some areas to be clarified such as the booking systems and how demand will be managed to protect residents. Our discussions will continue ahead of the booking system being opened up on 1st July. Details of these arrangements are still being confirmed,’ the spokesman added.
However we may not be out of the woods yet. The Arran Recovery Group have also been busy this week holding talks government ministers, officials, tourism bodies and council representatives. They say that it may only be possible to salvage £32 million from the tourist season this summer – down from £69 million last year and still putting many tourist businesses in trouble.
Cal Mac managing director Robbie Drummond said in a statement: ‘I am pleased that due to some very hard work, we have been able to bring forward both our new interim timetables, the second by two weeks. I am sure this will make a big difference to those island businesses who rely on the summer season.
“From July 1 to July 14 we will be introducing phase one of a new interim timetable which will increase sailings while strictly following the Scottish government and Transport Scotland’s travel guidelines and safety measures. This includes physical distancing which dictates the number of passengers we can carry.
‘From July 15 onwards we will implement phase two of our interim timetable which will see a further increase in sailings.’
‘To help us manage demand more effectively, foot passengers will be able to book in advance on some routes. Which routes this applies to will be sign posted on the website.’
The MV Caledonian Isles sails into a sunny Brodick on Wednesday. 01_B26caley01