21st November 2018
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Figures disprove ferry capacity claims

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.

About Peter Johnson

Reporter for The Shetland Times. I have also worked as an employed and freelance reporter and editor for a variety of print and broadcast media outlets and as as a freelance photographer and film maker/cameraman. In addition to journalism, I have experience in construction, oil analysis, aquaculture, fisheries, the health service and oral history.

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16 comments

  1. Harry Dent

    …or, looked at another way, empty cabins could be a symptom of high prices.

    Reply
    • Johan Adamson

      Also the pods are not popular, you might as well get a bit of floor

      Reply
    • Steven Jarmson

      My thoughts exactly Harry.
      Perhaps if the fairs were lower and the on-ship prices more reasonable people would use the boat.
      Instead, where possible, and affordable, I opt to fly.

      Reply
  2. roy chamberlain

    It costs us 900 to come with our caravan for our holidays each year, bringing one gchild with us, not as much as the plane but enough to go a fair distance around the world, was also told to book early to ensure a cabin.

    Reply
  3. Karen anderson

    I tried to book a cabin going to aberdeen on 3rd July from Lerwick and was told there was no cabin space for that sailing, I don’t think there was even pod space !

    Reply
  4. Karen Anderson

    I have just had my query confirmed today 12th June 2015 at 15.28 that there are no cabins nor any pod spaces available to travel between Lerwick and Aberdeen on 3rd July 2015

    Reply
    • Robert Duncan

      That’s the first day of the school holidays. I am not remotely surprised cabin spaces are booked up three weeks beforehand.

      Reply
      • Gordon Harmer

        It is not as if school holidays are a new phenomena and totally unexpected, the vessels should be of a design to cope with every time of year passenger numbers as well as weather. Serco have divided the seats in the restaurants and bars with steel arm rests to stop passengers on a budget sleeping there. Their whole ethos on this service is profit not as it should be to provide a life line service for every pocket.
        We have just completed a return trip from Aberdeen and due to time constraints on the way back had to eat breakfast on board which with island discount cost just over £7 the breakfast was cold and could not be eaten. In comparison to the breakfast we had the day before in IKEA for just over £3 it was a disgrace.

      • Robert Duncan

        Are we going to pretend this didn’t happen on the old P&O Boats? I remember family holidays started queuing with my parents waiting to see if a cabin became available through cancellation. It’d be madness to build a boat specced for the massive peak in demand brought on by school holidays, when average usage throughout the year is a fraction of that level.

        There are various other complaints it would be fair to level at the current management of the boats, but that cabins are not available at short notice for one of the busiest travelling days of the year is not one of them.

      • Gordon Harmer

        I remember queuing for a berth on the old P&O ferry, St Clair and always getting one, we used to not buy a cabin on purpose because it was cheaper to buy one after we sailed. Cabins on the new boats are in short supply all the year round and have been for a number of years now with the amount of construction workers using the boats when flights are unavailable. The aim of this lifeline service is profit not providing a service, everything on board is skewed in that direction. If it were not for the dedication of the crews on these vessels and there ability to add a personal touch there would be a tsunami of complaints every trip. As well as the construction of arm rests in the bars and restaurants to stop folk sleeping there they have removed to two large couches from the reception area where the like of students used to be able to grab a free comfortable nights sleep. This service operates on a profit before passengers ethos and is damaging to the Shetland tourist industry.

      • Johan Adamson

        They could be proactive and charter another boat for a couple of weeks at school holiday time ant take more tourists here as well

  5. David Spence

    I tried out one of these sleeping pods, and for paying £18.00, all it does is control the reclining part of the seat to go back a little.

    On paying for this, I was told what seat I was allocated, and on sitting on the said seat, I pressed the button and the back reclined a little, as mentioned. I did, for curiosity sake, pressed the buttons of the chairs to the left and right of where I was seated, but nothing happened. So, £18.00 is for ‘ pressing a button on the seat ‘.

    To be honest, I did not find these pods to be that more comfortable than the reclining chairs in the cinema or within other parts of the boat.

    Personally, I do not think these so-called ‘ sleeping pods ‘ are value for money………put bluntly.

    Reply
    • Wayne Conroy

      I think you must be paying for the privilege of having it darker when you try to sleep in the pods as the other “reclining chairs” (not that they recline more than a few inches) all seem to have bright spotlights above them that are left on all night shining brightly in the face of anyone trying to sleep in them.

      Frankly I think the boat is poorly designed throughout. The last “refit” was obviously just a complete waste of time and money.

      Other than that and the frequency of cancelled journeys my only problem with the boats are the kennels which are often stinking strongly of cleaning chemicals but are still very dirty. A quick wipe of a dirty kennel with a mop just isn’t enough in my opinion… Obviously they are not animal lovers!

      Reply
  6. raymond black

    This article is absolute rubbish as i tried several bookings for a return trip in July with my family and was not able to book a cabin as there were no cabins available,this has always been the same dilemma when trying to book a sailing with this company,Serco is a joke and hopefully goodbye to them when their contract ends

    Reply
  7. Gordon Harmer

    This link raises a lot of questions about Serco and the Scottish Government and the future of our ferry service.

    http://www.scotsman.com/news/brian-wilson-calmac-ferries-face-being-cut-adrift-1-3801116

    Reply
  8. Gordon Harmer

    Are we going to be next????????
    The RMT union is threatning to strike over a proposed contract that could potentially go to a private bidder, Serco. The Clyde and Hebrides contracts, worth 1 billion, are now in full tendering process with only two companies involved; Calmac and Serco.
    Serco already operates services elsewhere in Scotland including Orkney and Shetland. Coincidentally, Calmac’s parent company, David Macbrayne Limited, is wholly owned by the Scottish government.
    Why is this important? Well, the Scottish government claims to be the champions of the working class but selling off services to a private bidder, who is likely to undercut the government, will put employees working conditions and pensions to the sword, indeed this has already happened on other routes Serco operates.
    Under EU rules, state aid given to maritime services must be tendered equally so although the SNP has to tender, the fact they effectively own Calmac also means that they can shut out private bidders from taking control of island services. In essence, this is the SNP attempting to slowly privatising ferry services in Scotland under the illusion that they are somehow ‘forced’ to do it because of EU legislation, meanwhile they give away 1 billion of publc money to the private sector which is a grand departure from the spend spend culture they advocate in public. It is also alleged that Serco operate zero hours contracts, now who claim to abhor zero hours contracts?

    Reply

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