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Invergordon draws on deep well of resilience as port seeks to bounce back from cruise season devastated by Covid-19 pandemic


By Hector MacKenzie

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Sandra Munro: 'Major impact'.
Picture: Callum Mackay
Sandra Munro: 'Major impact'. Picture: Callum Mackay

A ROSS-SHIRE community reeling from the loss of a record-breaking multimillion-pound visitor industry is being asked to draw on the surge of resilience that has seen it through the the coronavirus crisis for the challenges ahead.

Businesses in Invergordon hit by the loss of a cruise liner industry worth £18 million to the Highland economy are now pinning their hopes on loyal local support and a revival of the trade next year.

The Port of Cromarty Firth, one of the area's biggest employers, has lost an estimated £3 million after the cancellation of virtually all of the 106 visits that would have brought 250,000 passengers and crew into the town this year.

Ross-based MSP Maree Todd this week issued a "shop local" rallying call in a support of a new campaign. She said: “Our local businesses closed back in March to keep our communities safe. Now it’s our turn to do our bit to support them and help them get back on their feet. I would urge anyone who can to get out and about and help our local shops, cafes and restaurants recover from the economic disruption caused by Covid-19."

Sandra Munro of Invergordon Development Trust, admitted: "The loss of this year’s cruise liners to the Highlands will have a major impact on the local economy, particular Invergordon. Cruise passengers play a large part in sustaining local shops, hotels and visitor attractions through the year."

She said people's wellbeing had been the top priority through the crisis. She said: "Now that restrictions are being relaxed it is crucial the economy gets a chance to recover for High Street survival, particularly small towns and villages."

Longer term she hopes to see the town benefit more from both the revival of the cruise business and the North Coast 500, with more done to direct visitors off the well-trodden tourist trail.

"It’s going to be hard to recover as Invergordon relies on the cruise ships for most of its trade, especially tourist-based businesses like my own." – Mike Ross

Another local businesswoman, Cromarty Firth ward councillor Maxine Smith, has witnessed a surge of people to her beauty salons but admits sustaining that momentum is the challenge. She too would like to see more done to encourage visitors off the beaten track: "With regard to Invergordon even signs on the A9 might bring tourists in from the North Coast 500. VisitScotland could help out here."

But she sees hope on the horizon with 90 cruise ships tentatively booked for next year. She said: "I’m optimistic about 2021 because I think humans are resilient, positive in their outlook but most of all want to do things that make them happy."

Mike Ross: 'It's going to be hard'.
Picture: Callum Mackay
Mike Ross: 'It's going to be hard'. Picture: Callum Mackay

Mike Ross opened his High Street gallery shop this week for the first time this year.He said: "It’s going to be hard to recover as Invergordon relies on the cruise ships for most of its trade, especially tourist-based businesses like my own. But a lot of locals have been asking me to reopen and I have been kept busy with online orders."

Joanne Allday, Port of Cromarty Firth strategic business development manager, said the loss of cruise business had been "devastating". She said: "We have lost 20 per cent of our revenue. But as bad as it has been for us, there are businesses across the Highlands who have found it much more devastating. Small family businesses have come to rely on cruise ship passengers.People would arrive on the coaches and it was almost a guaranteed income for the summer. That's all gone."

Better days: The massive MSC Meraviglia docked at Invergordon.
Picture: Callum Mackay.
Better days: The massive MSC Meraviglia docked at Invergordon. Picture: Callum Mackay.

The port has diversified and continued lifeline services such as food and fuel import. It has also hosted a large number of rigs in the Cromarty Firth as a result of the oil and gas sector downturn.

Depending on how the pandemic plays out, 2021 could be another record year for cruise visits.

Related: Award-winning Ross-shire High Street fears closures

'Think local' plea over recovery drive

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