Serco NorthLink managing director Stuart Garrett has pledged that the company will continue to listen to feedback from customers having completed a £1m refurbishment of its passenger ships.
Among the on-board changes is an increase in the number of reclining chairs available from 128 to 167. That includes 36 so-called “sleeping pods” in a new premium recliner lounge, which Serco promised to introduce to address a shortage of sleeping quarters during times of peak demand.
Other changes include removing the previous a la carte dining room and offering one standard dinner menu throughout the two ships.
That has seen Shetland lamb removed from the Hjaltland and Hrossey, but Mr Garrett insisted Serco NorthLink remained committed to supporting local producers. A meeting with a local lamb supplier is due to take place on Friday.
Public showers are being made available for a charge, as is access to a new relaxation area, the Magnus Lounge. Plans to axe the on-board cinema have been dropped.
“Lots of the changes are as a consequence of the feedback that we received before and shortly after the contract was transferred,” said Mr Garrett.
“We will continue to listen to feedback, if it’s menu options, breakfast options, whether or not we’re carrying enough local produce, seasonality of produce, is the charging structure right, are we not getting the demand that we thought we should have been getting.”
He continued: “I’d like to think that in the process of time, when the changes all bed in, the key stakeholders would recognise that what we’ve done has enhanced the experience of travelling to and from Shetland.”
The “group island discount scheme”, which helped sports clubs and school groups travel south by ferry, is under review. MSP Tavish Scott has voiced concern about the prospect of clubs having to pay increased fares and costs.
Mr Garrett said Serco NorthLink had a “very effective company sponsorship programme in place” and wanted to ensure there was a standard deal for such groups, with no informal arrangements in place for certain clubs.
“We are contractually obliged to Transport Scotland to manage the business in the way that’s specified within the contract, and that’s what we’ll do – not to do that would be irregular.”