AN Easter Ross port has cemented its reputation as Scotland’s busiest cruise hub with another record-breaking year which saw its passenger numbers soar by 54 per cent.
The Port of Cromarty Firth at Invergordon welcomed 151,078 cruise passengers on 93 ships during a season which ran from April until December. The previous year, the passenger number was registered at 97,992.
Captain Iain Dunderdale, the port’s cruise manager, said: "This has been an incredibly busy year for Invergordon and yet again we have a season that extended into December. With the support of an incredible team of Highland businesses, we were able to offer over 150,000 people the warmest of Highland welcomes. Worldwide, the cruise sector is the fastest growing area of travel and we look forward to welcoming even more passengers in 2018."
Chris Taylor, VisitScotland regional partnerships director, said: "It is encouraging to see Scotland’s popularity as an exciting cruising destination increasing every year and I am delighted to hear that numbers are up again this year at Invergordon. The fact that the tourism season in this region can be extended by these cruise ships docking here into December is very welcome. It also brings a fantastic boost to the local visitor economy.
"Tourism is the heartbeat of the Scottish economy, causing a ripple effect which touches every industry and community, creating employment and economic growth. Our reputation as a quality destination relies on continued investment and innovation to ensure that current provision meets future demand."
Bob Buskie, chief executive of the Port of Cromarty Firth, said: "As a deep-water port that is in close proximity to many of the Highlands’ most beautiful and historical locations, the Port of Cromarty Firth is the ideal location to grow and develop cruise tourism in Scotland.
"There are 81 new cruise liners currently on order throughout the world, many of which will accommodate more than 5000 passengers. The Port of Cromarty Firth is one of only three ports in Scotland that can accommodate ships of this size and, with more of them being built, it is essential for us to be able to receive them. Our investment and development plans will allow the port to continue to introduce more people to the beauty and history of the Highlands."
The season started in April with a visit from the AIDAVita, carrying 1490 passengers, and ended on December 3 when the Black Watch visited the Port, with 612 passengers looking to sample the delights of the Highlands in winter.
In 2017, there was a direct spend by these passengers estimated at £15m.
The AIDAVita came in six times. The largest ship, the MSC Preziosa, carrying over 4000 passengers on occasions, visited four times. The Caribbean Princess was the most frequent visitor with 12 calls in the eight-month season.
The port also organised two cruise workshops for local tourism businesses in 2017, for those interested in finding out how working with the cruise sector could boost their business. The port is also planning to work with cruise stakeholder group members to provide training for local shop owners and secure improved facilities on Invergordon High Street. A new cruise business club will also be launched next year.
This partnership working will ensure the Highlands capitalises on the increased passenger numbers and that visiting passengers have a unique experience in the region’s beautiful towns, villages and attractions and will want to return for a longer stay, according to Mr Buskie.