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Call for leadership on coronavirus impact on major Ross-shire money-spinner; 'Highlands must plan for recovery after unprecedented devastation to tourist trade'

By Louise Glen

Duncan Maclean of Invergordon Bus Tours.
Picture: Callum Mackay
Duncan Maclean of Invergordon Bus Tours. Picture: Callum Mackay

GROWING uncertainty over the future of an industry worth millions of pounds and supporting hundreds of jobs across Ross-shire has triggered a no-nonsense call to action.

With some tourist traders already writing off the season in response to the coronavirus crisis and businesses braced for the worst, a heartfelt appeal for leadership has been made to get through the worst and plan for the future.

As the Port of Cromarty Firth in Invergordon this week confirmed it is scrapping all cruise line visits in April, local tour bus operator Duncan Maclean called on tourism, local authority and business bosses to start thinking ahead and "stop burying heads in the sand".

Mr Maclean said: "I went to a meeting about tourism operators serving the Port of Cromarty Firth only a few days ago and when I mentioned coronavirus, no one listened. It is as if everyone is denying the problem and the devastating effect it will have on the future livelihoods of thousands of people in the Highlands.

We need leadership and we need it now."

It is estimated that Port of Cromarty Firth supports the employment of one in six people in the area.

He continued: "We can all basically wipe out most of the rest of this year. In the coach tour industry we can probably scrape through. But the real fear is when people who are taken out the system, it will crash then when the industry gets back up on its feet. That is when there will be no one left to provide the services that are needed."

Saying that already his business for the next few months has almost entirely been cancelled, he said: "No one seems to want to talk about what happens when this is over, and how we support people in the meantime.

How we first broke the story.
How we first broke the story.

"No one can pretend that this is not the biggest threat to the Highlands that we have ever faced, and no one can say it is not going to tear through the industry as a whole.

"But I am very hopeful that next year will be one of the biggest ever for the industry as cruise companies discount holidays to grow confidence in the business. We have an opportunity to be fit and ready to face it. But not if there is no one still around to provide it."

A spokeswoman for the Port of Cromarty Firth said business into the port had been cancelled for a month.

Bob Buskie, chief executive officer of the Port of Cromarty Firth added: “As a result of the ongoing developments of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), I can confirm there will be no cruise ships coming into Invergordon in April this year.

"The Scottish Government, Public Health Scotland and the Port Health Authority are taking proactive measures to mitigate against the impact of COVID-19 and are providing instructions for the Port to follow. As the COVID-19 developments remain fluid, the cruise calls scheduled into Invergordon for May and beyond are under constant review. The port will follow the instructions, advice and guidance from the governing authorities and experts as it becomes available.”

VisitScotland were contacted for a comment. In a general statement, it said: "In light of COVID-19, it's unlikely we'll be welcoming as many visitors as our friendly, passionate and unique country deserves.

"We are an innovative country, so while you are not able to come in person, keep an eye on our website and social media channels for lots of inspiring and beautiful content on Scotland - our way of keeping you smiling through these difficult months.

"Our country, regions, cities, towns and businesses are amazing, and we will all be working together to ensure your next trip will be one that will live long in the memory.

"We look forward to welcoming you to Scotland very soon."

Related: Virus concern prompts calls on cusp of £18m cruise line season

Ross-shire defiant: 'We're a resilient bunch, we'll help each other through this'

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