Highlands businesses have expressed concerns after confirmation that almost all cruise liners due to visit Invergordon this year have cancelled.
More than 100 ships were due to dock at the port on the Cromarty Firth – a record high.
The liners would have brought a total of more than 250,000 passengers and crew to the region.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to cancellation of all but three of the expected 106 cruise ship visits.
D&E Coaches would normally ferry hundreds of passengers to every corner of the Highlands on each cruise call.
‘Private hire non-existent’
In the summer, 90% of the coach company’s private hire is related to cruise liners. The firm has now lost about £1.5m in turnover following the cancellation of ships’ visits to Invergordon.
Managing director Donald Mathieson said: “It is devastating when you see the company making absolutely nothing, no money at all.”
Normally at this time of year D&E Coaches would have 20 coaches available per cruise liner to take passengers to different parts of the Highlands.
Mr Mathieson said: “We would be taking them on day trips into Inverness or Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle, Dunrobin Castle and Cawdor Castle.
“Private hire is non-existent at the moment.”
The many small, independent shops on Invergordon’s High Street have also felt the brunt – including Tanstar Gifts run by Sandra Munro.
She said the town was “completely different” without the cruise ship visits.
“Invergordon is suffering greatly because of the fact the cruise liners aren’t here this year. It will be a big loss to the local economy and revenue for everybody,” she said.
“We are all in the same boat, pardon the pun, in that we all rely greatly on the tourist trade throughout the summer to give us that comfort through the winter.”
Behind much of the expansion in the cruise trade has been the Port of Cromarty Firth.
Joanne Allday, a senior executive at the port authority, said: “It’s about 20% of our revenue now so it’s a major impact to the port’s revenue.
“But the greater impact is very much in the wider region.”
The port authority has been able to replace some of what it has lost from the cruise trade through its work in offering berths for oil and gas industry structures, such as rigs, while they are not in use.
With many cruise ships booked to visit next year, local businesses hope they will bring a much-needed boost for the economy of Invergordon and the wider Highlands.