The managing director of ferry operators Serco NorthLink has claimed that travel statistics disprove the claim of lack of capacity on the two passenger ferries operating on the Northern Isles to Aberdeen route.
Giving a quarterly update to the ZetTrans external forum on Wednesday, Stuart Garrett said that as of Monday this week neither cabins nor car deck space were fully booked on any day for the months of July or August.
That of course may change, he said, but those and other statistics that showed cabins and deck space were infrequently fully booked, even in peak season, contradicted feedback the company received that there was a shortage of carrying capacity on the two ships.
Mr Garrett added that because of the terms of their contract they could not “sell into” the market, but any unused capacity was an opportunity crying out for tourism operators to exploit.
He said: “The fact is that the message we get from people often does not translate to the reality we see when we do an analysis of the figures. This screams opportunity for Visit Shetland and other partners.”
NorthLink’s figures show fairly even performance with the same spell last year with a decline in the use of pods and especially reclining seats, possibly as a consequence of a fall in contractor traffic.
He added that the introduction on Road Equivalent Tariff for the Western Isles could be having a negative impact on tourism for Shetland, as there were anecdotal claims business to the west had been boosted by cheaper ferry fares.
It will be three years since Serco took over the Northern Isles ferry contract on 5th July and the forum heard that the tendering process this time around would be seeking to more actively engage interested parties. ZetTrans and other bodies were in the process of identifying who were the most relevant concerns with which to engage.