With a spacious harbour, countless tourist destinations within easy drive and a range of local businesses, one tourism operator believes Buckie could be a better destination for cruise ships than sun-kissed Santorini.
Moray Council has revealed it has received inquiries from operators interested in stopping in the region.
While the Mediterranean island may have the holiday climate, the cruise ship port is tiny and at the foot of a tight and twisty road.
Buckie harbour, in comparison, has space for coaches to park while being within easy reach of the town centre and main roads.
While Buckie and Santorini may be in the market for different types of tourists, both would require passengers from large cruise ships to be ferried to shore on smaller vessels due to the ports not being deep enough.
The Press and Journal spoke to Kevin Mayne, operations director at Buckie-based Maynes Coaches, about what could be possible in the Moray town.
‘Buckie has to have more belief in itself’
Maynes Coaches already transports thousands of cruise ship passengers every year with trips to and from ports all over the UK.
Drivers in their 45-strong fleet make regular visits to Kirkwall, Invergordon and Aberdeen as well as smaller harbours across the north including Portree, Ullapool and Gairloch.
And having seen what other ports offer, Mr Mayne believes nothing is holding Buckie back from marketing itself as a key destination for cruise ship operators.
He said: “Buckie harbour has got more room than people think. When cruise ships come into Portree you can only get one coach down at a time and then have to do a four-and-a-half-point turn to turn round on a single track road.
“At Buckie you’ve potentially got a whole area for coaches to line up next to the fish market. It’s a huge opportunity.
“I think Buckie has to believe in itself a bit more. Some people will never think something will happen until it does, and then it’s normal.”
Mr Mayne has been advocating using the Moray port for cruise ships for the last 10 years and believes it is better suited for the industry than some overseas destinations.
He said: “Folk might not think Buckie is fit for it, but if you go to Santorini the harbour there is actually smaller than Portknockie.
“Then you have to go up a hill with lots of S-bends like you’re going up the Alps to get away from it.”
How Buckie could manage cruise ship passengers
Buckie is capable of berthing ships up to 280ft, significantly smaller than the larger 1,000ft cruise ships that visit Invergordon and Aberdeen.
However, it is understood Moray Council’s new harbour charges for cruise ships has been introduced with smaller tender vessels, which transport passengers to and from the shore, in mind.
The practice is used in Santorini where cruise ships carrying up to 5,000 passengers anchor about two miles off the coast.
And Mr Mayne believes Buckie harbour has attributes that make it a perfect port for larger operators.
He said: “Kirkwall is one of the biggest cruise calls in the UK and it’s a lot smaller than what’s already in Buckie.
“You can get 3,000 or 5,000 folk on the boats that go there. Buckie isn’t going to be attracting that initially, but if you build it then they will come.
“From our point of view it takes us about 1hr 40mins to take passengers from Invergordon to the likes of Loch Ness.
“From Buckie it’s maybe about 2hrs 15mins, so it isn’t that far away from the types of destinations that are already attracting cruise ships.”
Marketing key to cruise ship success
The world famous Speyside whisky industry, food producers, golf courses and historic castles are all likely to be on the radar of potential Buckie cruise ship operators.
Many of the attractions already cater for coach trips throughout the year.
Mr Mayne believes global markets are already aware of what Moray and Speyside has to offer, they just need a way to get there.
He said: “You can go anywhere in the world and be guaranteed to see two things, Speyside whisky and a box of Walkers shortbread.
“We do about 120 coach tours from Inverness Airport and almost all of the people will tell you Elgin is absolutely wonderful. When you live somewhere you don’t always appreciate what you have.
“Golf is really popular too. We do about 15 cruise ship trips a year dedicated to golf where Lossiemouth and Cullen could really benefit.
“If Buckie can attract a small 80 to 300-berth cruise ship, these are exactly the kind of people you want to spend money in the local area.
“During Covid I said that without the coach industry cruise ships were just boats full of people with nowhere to go.
“At the moment boats full of people are passing by Buckie, if we can get the marketing and infrastructure right then we can get them to come close enough to the shore to spend money.”