Business is booming for Scotland’s cruise providers as tourists flock to the west coast in search of a more intimate sea-faring adventure.
Sail Scotland, the representative body for marine tourism, said its “sailing holiday” membership scheme, which incorporates smaller cruise boats, had doubled in the past three months. Four Scottish cruise operators with vessels able to carry no more than 11 passengers said that demand had jumped by up to 60 per cent in the last year.
The global eco-holiday website Responsible Travel has identified small-scale Scottish cruising as a key tourism trend, with an overall rise in revenue of 71 per cent for the companies on its books.
On smaller cruise ships, guests are able to explore the country’s hidden coastlines by day before eating locally-caught seafood cooked on-board at night.
One company offering such services, The Majestic Line, counts the actresses Dame Judi Dench and Emma Thompson, and the former football manager Sir Alex Ferguson among previous private charter guests. Hiring the firm’s largest boat for ten nights’ exclusive use between May and September costs more than £45,000.
Marie McGhee, a spokeswoman for the company, said that the lure of an on-board “house party atmosphere”, as well as recent political upheaval, had persuaded newcomers to try out a new way of setting sail.
“Most of our customers are aged 40 and over and include quite a lot of couples spending their kids’ inheritance,” she said.
“They like the luxury en suite cabins but also watching wildlife and walking along the coast. Since Brexit, we have found people holidaying at home more.”
Hebrides Cruises has seen uptake soar so fast that it had to purchase a second vessel last year to meet demand.
Emma MacGregor, the company’s shore manager, said revenue had risen by more than 50 per cent in the past 12 months, prompted by North American and Australian passengers keen to wake up beside the sea stacks at St Kilda and sample sustainable seafood. Larger-scale cruising, however, shows no sign of dropping anchor. VisitScotland estimated that about 656,000 passengers will visit the country this year, up almost 200,000 on last year.
Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of the tourism body, believes that sustainability may be behind the rising popularity of the small-scale experience.
“Our latest research identified that visitors are increasingly interested in origin and practices when choosing tourism brands,” he said.