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Are cruise ships really a big win for businesses and north-east communities?

Cruise ship season has started, bringing hundreds of thousands of passengers to Scotland this year, but is this something we should be celebrating?

Houses dwarfed by a huge cruise ship in Invergordon. Image: Sandy McCook.
Houses dwarfed by a huge cruise ship in Invergordon. Image: Sandy McCook.

As the first cruise ships of the season arrived, Darren Murray, owner of the St Machar Bar, says they have a “great impact” on the Old Aberdeen institution.

“Because we have a connection with them now, it’s fantastic, steady business for us, especially over summer, which usually sees us getting quieter after most students have left,” said Darren.

“They are definitely a benefit for the city. We are working with local businesses, the cathedral and university about how we, as a community, can make their visit the best it can be.

Darren Murray says cruise ships have been great for the St Machar Bar in Old Aberdeen. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson.

“The customers are always very cheery. They are here to have a laugh and enjoy themselves.

“The other day I was getting pictures taken with customers having their first whiskies. We offer them pints and whisky and they love it.

Cruise ship passengers can buy bottles to take away

“We also put together a small bottle shop so they have a selection of Scottish whisky and gin to take away.

“The feedback has been fantastic.

“Originally it was planned to be just one visit a day of about 30 people. Now it’s three visits a day with over 40 people each group.”

German tourists off a cruise ship queue outside the St Machar Bar last summer. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson.
David Richardson is Highlands and Islands Development Manager for the Federation of Small Businesses.

He said cruise ships “bring in high-spending people” but “many of them are on all-inclusive packages and their discretionary spend is limited”.

“They go into shops but they’re not going to spend a lot of money unless something really takes their fancy.

“They’ve got to cart it all home. If they are on a massive voyage, they can’t buy lots of stuff everywhere they go.

David Richardson, Highlands and Islands Development Manager for the Federation of Small Businesses.

“In Orkney some shops said it’s actually the crew who spend the money, not passengers.”

“The trick is to persuade people to do different things to spread the money with smaller businesses locally so it goes into the economy.

“The wealth of the passengers is nothing to do with how much they spend.

“A lot of money is often spent on the ship or on pre-booked tours.

“They don’t say, ‘I’m going to have lunch somewhere nice today’. They might have a cup of coffee. How can we get them to spend more of it?

Cruise ship AIDAsol was the first of the season to visit Aberdeen this month. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson.

“This is not to rubbish cruise ships but one has to understand the game.

He added that when attractions are crowded with busloads of cruise visitors, it can “create friction”.

“The NC500 has brought benefits but it’s also put pressure on roads and communities.

“If you’re bringing lots of people in on all these ships, it does put strain on the local infrastructure.”

The North Coast 500 route brings lots of visitors to the region, as do the cruise ships.
Amanda McLennan runs electronics shop Orkney Television Enterprise in Kirkwall.

She said: “There are lots of opinions in Orkney about cruise liners but I feel that if we didn’t have them, Kirkwall would be like any other town on mainland Scotland.

Towns full of charity shops or run down “would be delighted to have cruise ships” she believes.

Amanda McLennan runs Orkney Television Enterprise and thinks cruise ships are a ‘good thing’.

“A lot of people say cruise ships don’t put any money into Orkney but we’ve had to adapt. We’ve always sold gifts, now we sell different gifts.

“I think cruise liners can only be a good thing. Passengers come from all over the world. Last Tuesday I saw about 40 American tourists heading to Scapa Flow in the rain.

“If you’re only here a day you have to make the most of it.

Cruise ship passengers promise to return

“A lot say they are coming back on holiday because they haven’t seen enough. That’s good for the islands.

“I hear negative feedback but we are tourists as well when we go abroad.

“We walk out on the road, we fill streets that are normally empty, all the things they complain about. We do that too on holiday.”

The first cruise ship passengers arrive in Aberdeen on April 8. Image: Newsline/Port of Aberdeen.

Some say passengers make places too busy or only visit a few businesses but Amanda said: “They are in every shop.”

“Maybe it’s because I’m in retail but I don’t understand why we’d be against them coming here.
“I read Aberdeen was excited because it’s expecting 50 liners this year.

“The bottom line is that it tells in the tills. Everyone’s like, ‘they don’t spend money here’. But they do.

“Nothing is forever and we need to make the most of it.”

Scapa Flow is a tourist draw, even worth a visit in the rain. Image: Shutterstock.
Moray Councillor Draeyk van der Horn said cruise ships must be viewed within the wider context of climate breakdown, coastal erosion, storms and so on.

“A study put the (annual) average carbon footprint of a large cruise ship at the equivalent of 12,000 cars,” he said.

“It’s not just the fuel. It’s the housekeeping, food waste and building the ships.

“That’s what makes a cruise ship one of the dirtiest vessels on the high seas.

“They have huge impact on our marine environment. Many dump sewage straight into the sea. The repercussions are astronomical.”

Draeyk van der Horn said cruise ships are part of a bigger environmental picture. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.

Cruise companies have shown an interest in Buckie, but the councillor said: “We need to understand the impact, not just from a climate change perspective, but on the local community and on fishing.”

The Scottish Greens have announced a cruise ship levy.

Green MSP Maggie Chapman said: “Cruise visitors could make significant contributions to our local economies, but at the moment, this isn’t how these visits are set up.”

“Barcelona, once Europe’s most polluted port, has taken a stand, by banning cruise ships, while Norway plans to restrict non-zero-emission vessels from navigating its fjords.”

Scottish Greens MSP Maggie Chapman said Barcelona has banned cruise ships. Image: Wullie Marr / DC Thomson.

Councillor van der Horn said the levy is needed as an incentive towards greener transportation and tourism.

“Passengers get off on to coaches then drive straight through the port they’ve arrived at.

“If they’re not electric, there’s pollution associated with that.

Cruise ships must have a negative impact on living creatures

“And you can’t tell me cruise ships are not impacting animals that rely on sonar.

“The stress we cause to other animals causes disorientation, ill health and loss of strength.

“People like to go around the world and see things. We want people to come and enjoy Moray.

“But we can’t maintain it as a beautiful place if we are destroying the planet at the same time.”

Buckie Harbour is a place of interest for cruise ships. Image: Shutterstock.