The Scottish Tourism Alliance has said that there is “critical urgency for increased ferry capacity” for the Western Isles as it reacted with disappointment at the news that the delivery of two new vessels has been delayed by a year.
One of the vessels is for the crossing between Arran and Ardrossan and the other for the Uig-Lochmaddy-Tarbert triangle.
The Scottish Government announced that these will not be delivered until next summer and spring 2020.
Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said: “The announcement of further delays in the delivery of the two newly commissioned CalMac vessels is beyond disappointing. The STA has raised frequent concerns to Cabinet Ministers and Transport Scotland regarding the provision of the existing fleet in terms of capacity and the fact that these ships are ageing, with a slow pipeline of replacement.
“Ian Fordham, chairman of Outer Hebrides Tourism (OHT), one of destination organisations that sits on the STA Member Council has also been very active in highlighting and communicating what has now become unacceptable situation causing a barrier to growing tourism in the Islands in recent weeks to senior officials politicians and the media.
“There is critical urgency for increased ferry capacity on Hebridean routes to service the demand by visitors who wish to visit, stay and explore the islands and visitor attractions.
“The vast majority of ferries assigned to these routes are currently running at full capacity in an already stretched network and tourism operators and accommodation providers are being left with no option but to turn away business as a result of there being no space to travel.”
A spokesman for Transport Scotland said: “Over £1billion has been invested in ferry services across the Clyde and Hebrides since 2007, including the MV Loch Seaforth and harbour upgrades at Stornoway and Ullapool. We are continuing to invest in new vessels and ferry infrastructure to renew the fleet.
“Work is also already underway to appraise, and subsequently to deliver on, further improvements to the ferry services to the Western Isles, including the important Ullapool-Stornoway route.
“While this further delay to the two new ferries is disappointing, it is important to focus on the fact that we will have two new ships joining the fleet serving the Clyde and Hebrides network that have been built in Scotland, providing vital support to our ship building industry.”