Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart has today discussed the impact of Northlink’s decision to cancel tour group bookings for 2021 with the Islands Minister, Paul Wheelhouse. On 14 October Northlink told travel operators that all group bookings for 2021 had been cancelled due to concerns about the impact of Covid-19
Ms Wishart was joined on the call by Orkney MSP Liam McArthur to highlight the impact of the decision on the Islands’ tourism industry and to discuss the lack of consultation and communication with businesses, as well as the need to rebuild confidence in the sector going forward.
During the meeting, the Minister confirmed that it is a commercial decision by Northlink to provisionally cancel bookings and the decision is being reviewed on an ongoing basis. Mr Wheelhouse recognised that communication had been an issue and resolved to work with Northlink and the tourism industry to avoid similar issues in the future. The Minister also agreed to work with Tourism Secretary, Fergus Ewing, to see if support can be provided to businesses facing hardship as a result of the cancellations.
Commenting Ms Wishart said:
“This was a constructive meeting and I’m pleased that the Minister recognised that the situation should have been handled better. I’m particularly grateful for assurances that he will work with colleagues to look at providing support for businesses that have been devastated by Northlink’s decision. I made it clear that the cancellations could be the ‘nail in the coffin’ for businesses that have already been hit hard by coronavirus restrictions.
“I appreciate that Northlink is working in difficult circumstances and that appropriate measures must be in place to keep islanders and visitors safe, but decisions on bookings must be made with proper engagement with the communities affected. If businesses and visitors are to have confidence in Shetland as a tourism destination stakeholders must work together.”
Mr McArthur added:
“While Northlink’s decision to cancel tour group bookings for 2021 has been taken to safeguard capacity on these routes in the light of ongoing uncertainty about future restrictions, it has undoubtedly created problems for the local tourism sector. This comes on the back of an already exceptionally difficult 2020.
“Northlink insist that the situation will be kept under constant review, a point reiterated by the Islands Minister during our meeting. Given the apparent lack of prior consultation, however, it is even more important that Northlink and Transport Scotland now work closely with Destination Orkney and other local stakeholders to build confidence going forward.
“It’s also clear that ongoing support for the sector will be needed to help safeguard local jobs and businesses. Again the Minister recognised this and offered to consult with the Tourism Secretary on possible options. This is welcome and I look forward to seeing what emerges from those discussions”.