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Fall in cruise ship arrivals expected to be a blip, Highland port believes

By Philip Murray

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Cruise ship in Invergordon.
Cruise ship in Invergordon.

A small drop in the number of cruise ships visiting a key Highland port in 2024 is expected to be only a brief dip – with hopes high of a return to record-breaking numbers in coming years.

The Port of Cromarty Firth (PoCF) made the comments following its confirmation in December that 118 cruise ships will call at Invergordon in the 2024 season.

This will be down down from the 129 vessels which visited in 2023, although the Highland tourist economy is not expected to feel any ill effects from the reduced number of ships – as the vessels are expected to have a higher average number of passengers aboard.

This means that the 221,000 passengers who were reported to have visited in 2023 are predicted to be surpassed in 2024 despite fewer ships – with PoCF predicting a total of roughly 230,000 tourists this time round.

And it believes the small drop in the total number of ships visiting will reverse in 2025 as cruise lines welcome more brand new vessels into their fleets following construction delays during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"During the past few years, older ships have been decommissioned and were due to be replaced by new builds," explained Allison McGuire, PoCF's cruise manager for Invergordon. "Due to the effects of the pandemic, the new builds due in 2022 and 2023 were pushed back slightly.

"There are now 11 new ships due to launch in 2024 and a further 18 new ships scheduled for 2025.

"For the past decade we have seen a five to 10 per cent increase year on year at the port ([with the] exception of 2024), bringing in £25+ million pounds to the Highland economy.

"Looking towards the future, we are already seeing an increase in booking for 2025 and 2026."

Even though vessel numbers will be down in 2024, they are still set to be higher than any year bar 2023, with the previous record prior to that year's 129 ships being the 109 which visited in 2022.

Ms McGuire added that ship passenger numbers are also still on the rise after a fall in occupancy rates during the pandemic, which she believes bodes well for the future – with ship and passenger numbers both predicted to increase.

"The ships are larger this year, and as the industry returns to a new normal, onboard bookings and capacities have increased, standing roughly 85-90 per cent full."

By comparison, in 2022 there were only 142,000 aboard the 109 ships which visited. In 2019, during the last full season before the pandemic hit, the port welcomed 166,000 passengers.

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