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There is growing concern CalMac’s delay in publishing its timetable for crossings between Mallaig and Armadale on Skye until early next year will have a serious knock-on impact for local tourism businesses.
A meeting is due to take place tomorrow (Friday) with CalMac, which MSP Kate Forbes and Caol and Mallaig ward councillor Allan Henderson are expected to attend.
Ms Forbes told the Lochaber Times that it had emerged last week that the Armadale to Mallaig summer timetable would not be published until next year, later than the usual.
‘This is a significant concern for businesses on both sides of the crossing – an area reliant on tourism – as it puts them at a serious disadvantage compared to other routes,’ she added.
‘I am pursuing this matter with CalMac. In the hope of finding a solution, I have arranged for a meeting with senior management and community representatives.’
She went on to say that summer timetables for all of the other routes will have been published well before the one for Mallaig to Armadale.
Ms Forbes, MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, last week wrote to CalMac pointing out that this was particularly pertinent to those who usually host coach tours, and her initial discussions from key tourist attractions and others in the hospitality industry suggested that operators are prepared to take their business elsewhere as a result of the route’s uncertainty.
‘If this turns out to be the case, this will have a significantly detrimental impact to businesses in my constituency on either side of the crossing who are reliant on income from tourism to the area,’ Ms Forbes told the ferry firm.
‘It is important CalMac understands the significance of any delay to communities on both sides of the crossing – and whilst I do not underestimate the complexities of timetable planning – the January date must be brought forward.’
Councillor Henderson is also concerned and told the Lochaber Times: ‘The waiting for a timetable causes problems on both sides, with businesses not able to plan for the future. We all know coach business is usually planned at least 18 months in advance.
‘This also causes massive logistical problems for Mallaig Harbour, whether it be vessels in, or out, and the arrangements and planning for the amount of space required to stack up queueing cars on Mallaig pier.
‘While all business is welcome, planning is an important part of oiling the wheels to make it run smoothly. Delaying timetables is undesirable.’
Sine Davis, of the West Highland Hotel in Mallaig, said in this part of the Highlands a huge number of people either rely directly on tourists or on other businesses relying on tourists.
‘Visitors want and need to make plans and be confident they have accommodation and travel organised. If one piece of the jigsaw – ie the ferry – is not in place, we are afraid that alternative plans will be made that excludes the Road the the Isles area and, of course, Sleat on Skye,’ she added.
It is absurd that this one crossing is being set aside like this. Something needs to be done urgently to protect already battle worn and fragile tourism destinations.
Asked to comment, a CalMac spokeswoman said: ‘MV Utne will be joining the fleet next year and this will have an impact on Mallaig services.
‘There are other considerations being given to the Mallaig-based timetables, which has resulted in these being delayed from the rest of the network.
‘We hope to be in a position to publish the majority of summer timetables on December 19, however, we will require until January 19 to finalise the Mallaig routes.
‘This is due to the inter-connected nature of the services, changes still to be approved for all three routes and the necessity to finalise tidal timetables for each too. This is an extensive piece of work which requires time to ensure it is accurate.
‘We apologise for this delay and assure you we are working hard to deliver these timetables.’