In response to the rising number of cruise ship passengers visiting the Orkney Islands, one of the most popular cruise destinations in the UK, are considering implementing restrictions on cruise ship arrivals.
The move comes amidst concerns from residents and businesses about the impact of the growing visitor numbers on the islands’ resources and local economy.
On some days, the small island group experiences over 7,000 cruise ship guests arriving on the same day. While locals welcome visitors, the vast number of people strains local resources, forcing road closures and making life for the people in the small communities much harder.
The Orkney Islands have long been one of the most popular visitor attractions in the United Kingdom. Located on the northern coast of Scotland, the islands are well known for their natural beauty, the Highland Park Whisky Distillery, and the ancient Neolithic site of Skara Brae.
However, with the surge of cruise ships that visit the Orkney Islands, the increased number of visitors has led to multiple challenges. Road closures, enforced for public safety, have affected local businesses, many of which claim to see little benefit from the influx of tourists.
A local resident, Julie Richards, expressed her concerns to The Times: “We have had over 7000 passengers from three ships on one day, and some ships have over 4000 passengers. All this is on top of the normal tourism. It’s just too much.
“Nobody is saying ban the cruise business, but we see no benefit, and we have a council tax rise of 10%. We just want the cruise ship impact better organized. This is definitely the worst it has ever been.”
According to Orkney Harbour Authority, 234 ships are slated to berth during 2023, anticipated to inject about £15 million into the economy. While the boost to the economy is significant, it has become clear that balancing the needs of guests and residents is paramount.
Nearly all major cruise lines visit the Orkney Islands and the primary port, Kirkwall. Ships scheduled to visit Orkney in 2023 include a diverse range of vessels such as MSC’s newest luxury cruise ship, Explora I, Norwegian Dawn, Seabourn Venture, Regal Princess, Norwegian Star, AIDASol, Zuiderdam, MSC Poesia, Carnival Pride, and Celebrity Silhouette.
However, a wide range of smaller cruise ships and expedition cruise ships also sail to Stromness, worsening the situation for locals. This is why the local council is now looking at limiting the number of arrivals in the future.
In response to the concerns, the council is developing a cruise liner booking policy to be presented on August 22. The policy aims to limit the number of large liners visiting on any given day.
Paul Olvhoj, business development manager at the harbor authority, said every UK port looks at Orkney as a beacon of success: “Cruise can be a divisive and difficult subject but we work very hard with the cruise lines, their shore excursion partners and our tourism stakeholders to ensure that the cruise sector has a positive experience in Orkney and that Orkney enjoys the benefits.”
“It is not an understatement to say that every port in the UK looks at Orkney as a beacon of success in cruise and wishes to reach our high standards.”
While Olvhoj emphasized the commitment to ensuring every visitor has a first-class experience without overburdening the island’s infrastructure, the fact is that just for August 20, six streets will be closed to accommodate cruise ship passengers.
The current sentiment amongst locals resonates with the broader approach of many global destinations, as places like Venice and Barcelona have also recently taken steps to manage the effects of large-scale cruise tourism. The new policy in Kirkwall reflects limits put in place on the US east coast last year when Bar Harbor implemented cruise ship limits.
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