BUSINESSES in Fort William are being urged to pull out the stops after it was confirmed that two large cruise ships, each carrying around 800 passengers and 350 crew, will visit the town in the coming weeks.
‘Marco Polo’ and ‘Ocean Countess’, operated by Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV), will sail into Loch Linnhe on Saturday, May 26, and Monday, June 4, respectively.
Highland Council, which has been marketing the town as a possible cruise ship destination for many years, has warmly welcomed the scheduled arrivals which they say have the potential to make a significant impact on the local economy.
The local authority is encouraging town traders to welcome the business enthusiastically.
A council spokeswoman said: “With predominantly half day tours being offered by the tour company to many areas of Lochaber, there are excellent opportunities for businesses to benefit from these visits.”
In an agreement struck recently after months of talks, The Underwater Centre and Crannog Concept are supplying the facilities for the ships to operate, with the cruise boat Souter’s Lass being used as the “platform” to disembark passengers straight onto the “town pier”.
Those visitors who choose not to go on the coach tours or who still have time to spend before or after their tour will be able to shop and relax in Fort William High Street.
The council say a local piper will be available to welcome the first passengers and a presentation will be made to the ships’ captains to mark the special visits.
And, after several years of Fort William “missing the boat”, two more cruise liners are scheduled to visit Fort William later this year.
Councillor Brian Murphy, chairman of Fort William Steering Group, said: “I am really pleased that we are to get visits from four cruise ships this year, hopefully the first of many.
“We have been trying for a number of years to break into this market and I would like to thank the Underwater Centre and Crannog Concept for making this possible by offering the use of the Souter’s Lass.
“This is an opportunity that Fort William must grasp with both hands and I hope that local businesses will give some thought as to how they can make the visit an enjoyable experience for the cruise ship passengers.
“We need them to leave with happy and positive memories of their visit so that the cruise companies will want to return in increasing numbers.”
‘Marco Polo’, which is 537ft in length, will leave Newcastle on May 23 on a five night cruise to the Highlands and islands, arriving in Fort William at 8am on May 26 and departing after a day’s sightseeing at 6pm.
‘Ocean Countess’ will leave Liverpool on May 29 for eight nights cruising to some of the best gardens in and around Britain.
The ship will arrive in Fort William on June 4 at 9am and set sail at 5pm.
The Ocean Countess visit coincides with the extra-long weekend to celebrate the Queen’s diamond jubilee.
CMV marketing manager Mike Hall said: “We are very excited and pleased about bringing our ships to Fort William from where we are passengers will have the chance to discover the stunning Highland scenery of mountains, glens, and lochs – the landscape Scotland is famous for.“We are sure that a warm Scottish welcome awaits us.”