Is Stornoway ready for an influx of cruise ship tourists? You bet it is

Stornoway's skyline is set for radical change as cruise ships dock alongside a new port facility. Is Stornoway ready for the footfall? We certainly think so

As reported by Cruise Trade News, Stornoway has been undergoing a mammoth change lately. Following extensive groundwork amid herculean financial efforts, a new deep water port will begin operations for the 2024 season.

That’s big news. Really big news.

Whereas Stornoway was previously an exclusive venture for smaller ships and boutique cruises, the glorious Scottish Hebrides now has a base port for larger vessels.

Cruise liners such as Cunard’s Queen Victoria and Ambassador’s Ambition are no longer banished to anchor off the coast – they can soon get much closer to the action. And there's a healthy dollop of action to be had.

The area is now on the verge of welcoming an influx of culture-hungry tourists. And, as a proud community that strikes the perfect balance between celebrated patrimony and modern demands, Stornoway won’t disappoint those who visit.

The Hebridean capital provides some of Scotland’s finest culture and wildlife, not to mention delectable national cuisine and awe-inspiring heritage.

Cunard describes the area as a “place of harmony and diversity”, whereas P&O Cruises proudly declares Scotland’s Outer Hebrides as an “area renowned for its unspoilt natural beauty.”

But enough of this lyrical highland waxing. Long story short, Stornoway will soon be the new fashionable in-Vogue destination for those seeking a new experience – but that does raise a question; will the relatively-small Stornoway cope?

Stornoway has more visual splendour that any human can possibly take in. Credit: Shutterstock

Stornoway’s potential as a cruise destination

The short answer is yes. The long answer is also yes.

Although there’s undoubtedly been a voice of concern about the number of visitors suddenly swamping the local infrastructure, the majority of residents, businesses and authorities feel no fear. In fact, hopes rest on the new port’s success.

“More tourists not only means more inventory and sales, but also a halo effect where the whole of Harris & Lewis benefits”, a distributor of Harris Tweed explained to Cruise Trade News.

“The cruise industry will provide more than a side hustle for the island. It’s a new safety net for businesses in the area.”

For channelling tourists from the port into town and towards Stornoway’s shops and attractions, there’s a network of fresh tarmac routes – roads, cycle routes and pathways – designed to aid footfall and prevent backscatter.

Concerned parties who run with paranoid visions - where the likes of Lews Castle, or the historic fishing harbour, are trashed by a feverish mass stampede of ignorant crowds - can relax.

From new bus routes to itineraries that help regulate the flow of activity, Stornoway’s landmarks and infrastructure will remain perfectly safe. Unless residents are irked by globetrotters taking the obligatory selfie, then soundless sleep will be easily found.

Quite frankly, all that panic about visitor numbers was a delusional situation anyway, considering that the thousands of proposed annual visitors wouldn’t be invading all at once.

“We have told local residents and business owners that there is nothing to be afraid of. Not all those predicted numbers will be coming in a single day”, Alex McLeod, CEO of Stornoway Port Authority – pointed out to Cruise Trade News.

“We have been successful with large P&O Cruises [ships] in the past and coped with big numbers before. It’s a chance to showcase the Gaelic heartland and visitors need to be able to experience the Hebridean charms on offer. Stornoway can cope. The opportunities are incredible.”

A visual representation of Stornoway's completed deep water port. Credit: Stornoway Port Authority

The environmental factors

Ok, so the human aspect seems to be licked. But what about the environmentalists who claim Stornoway’s unspoilt beaches and lands will soon become Mad Max-style waste grounds?

Granted, any business venture of this magnitude holds environmental risks, and Stornoway Port Authority has taken that responsibility very seriously.

Working alongside local tourism bodies and authorities, areas where adjustments are required for facilitating visitor numbers have been addressed.

And that doesn’t mean manhandling the local wildlife into lesser areas, or blending them for delicious tourist-grade pulp, either.

EviroCenter Scotland has been consulted to ensure marine life suffers minimal impact, with environmental suggestions carried out to the finest of details.

I totally understand that business-environment-hybrid spiel can sound unconvincing, or as though it secretly masks a lack of care, but that’s not the case here. Addressing the environmental concerns was envisioned right from the project’s conception.

Diving into the Environmental Impact Assessment Report of 2020, although there are confessions that a number of significant landscape, visual and cumulative effects are predicted during the port’s operational life, these are relatively localised in extent.

Quite frankly, it sounds as though the area’s wildlife and sea creatures are going to be just fine. After all, the area's famed wildlife remains one of the main attractions. Nobody wants to witness Flipper belly-up off the stern.

Local culture in Stornoway is well worth absorbing. Credit: Shutterstock

Will there be enough demand?

This is no fad. There’s been unprecedented demand for a deep water facility in Stornoway for decades, and after all the financial legwork paved the road to a £49m budget (£10m from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, £37.5m from the local council and £1.5m from the Stornoway Port Authority), efforts have developed Scotland’s only northwest port capable of welcoming the big guns.

Due for completion in November 2023, the new port will be capable of accommodating cruise ships up to 360 meters in length, offering a depth of 10 meters below Chart Datum to overrule low tides.

This impressive berthing potential allows a plethora of previously ‘exiled’ larger ships to dock, yet the greatest leviathans – such as Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships – remain too vast for access.

Personally, that’s no bad thing. Keeping the greatest leviathans at bay prevents soiling the charismatic habitat – both for people and wildlife.

“Without the deep water terminal, we were never going to facilitate bigger numbers”, MacLeod explained.

“There’s been demand and a long-held need for the cruise industry to have a west coast base. They can’t do certain routes overnight without Stornoway. We are positioned in the right place for the cruise industry and we have a product to sell – the Hebrides.”

He’s not wrong. The Hebridean Islands are hugely popular with tourists and cruise enthusiasts.

Need evidence? Just look at the increasing visitor numbers that troop towards Scotland’s west coast following post-COVID reignition. More than 100 vessels booked an anchorage off the Stornoway coast for the April-September 2023 season.

Tens of thousands of visitors are due to venture forth into Stornoway this year – stepping from the deck into Hebridean paradise. They are certainly in for a treat.

Subsequent cruise seasons will bring a significant boost for many island businesses, especially those that continue their recovery from socioeconomic and geopolitical challenges faced since 2020.

Is it booked up? In a nutshell: yes.

Stornoway’s new port has been inundated with 2024 booking requests from the likes of Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and Ambassador Cruise Line.

The opportunity to venture forth through Scotland’s Hebridean Portal has turned heads and found scores of holidaymakers throwing their money at cruise providers.

The first arrival at the new port will be 1 April, 2024. That may be April Fool’s Day to most, but mother of all non-holidays also rings in a new chapter for the Hebridean economy. And good luck to them.

About Calum Brown

Calum holds a deep interest in all things heritage and remains one of Britain’s most enthusiastic historians.

As a seasoned journalist, he has spent considerable time abroad and relishes all forms of transport. Shipping is in the blood, with a family connection to Stena Line embedded in his DNA. He also refuses to admit that 21st Century music exists.

Calum has developed a skill for bringing history alive, and always insists on making heritage accessible for everyone.