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The opening of the new deep water terminal in Stornoway harbour looks set to bring ‘vastly increasing’ visitor numbers through the port and across the islands, according to a report before councillors this week.

A meeting of the sustainable development committee of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (CnES) tomorrow (Tuesday 29 November) will hear of a new Cruise Forum established to plan how island infrastructure will cope with the resulting surge in visitor numbers.

The forum is composed of officers from CnES, Stornoway Port Authority (SPA), Outer Hebrides Tourism (OHT) and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) who intend to deliver an action plan supporting local businesses, communities and services impacted by the increase in visitor numbers.

Meetings have already been held, and a briefing meeting planned for next month (December) will offer an insight into ‘the needs, demands and characteristics of the cruise sector.’

Councillors will also be separately briefed on the implications of the new wave of visitors from large cruise vessels.

In a report to councillors ahead of tomorrow’s meeting, economic development officer for CnES Kathlene Morrison said: “Tourism is not only one of the foremost sectors within the Outer Hebrides but is also one of the largest employers.

“Consequently, suitable tangible and intangible infrastructure requires to be in place to support it and to ensure that high quality tourism products, visitor experience and community buy-in is maintained and exceeded.

“The volume of the cruise sector in the islands is also increasing and cognisance needs to be taken of this, especially given that completion of the new £49m multi-purpose Deep-Water Terminal in Stornoway Harbour is expected by the end of 2023.

“The new terminal will be able to accommodate cruise ships of up to 360m (1,181ft) in length and large cargo ships.

“This, together with the development of tourism related projects detailed within the Islands Deal, will result in the number of visiting cruise ships, subsequent footfall, and other visitor numbers vastly increasing from 2023 onwards.”

Among priorities already identified by the forum are the appointment of a cruise development manager, initially be for a period of 12 months, with funding shared with HIE and OHT.

Also needed will be improved information provision and communication across the cruise supply chain, capacity building for local providers, investment in visitor infrastructure and support marketing of the Outer Hebrides as a cruise visitor destination.

Councillors are, at this stage, being asked to note the report and the establishment of the forum.

The picture shows cruise vessels Le Bellot and Hanseatic Inspiration in port in May 2022 (Stornoway Port Authority)