Aberdeenshire conference focuses on cruise ‘best practice’

The Royal residence of Balmoral, the clifftop fortress of Dunnottar and numerous other castles, gardens and other world-class visitor attractions have put Aberdeenshire on the map in the cruise ship sector.

That success – and the challenges that accompany it – have been highlighted in recent weeks, as Aberdeenshire Council continues to play a key role in the EU project Cruise Gateway North Sea.

When the Hurtigruten ship MS Fram called into Aberdeen on a cruise
from Hamburg to Iceland, its passengers were treated to shore excursions which included Balmoral and Dunnottar, which is currently leading the Visit Scotland tourist poll for nominating a Scottish “Eighth Wonder of the World”.

On a visit to Crathes Castle, passengers were accompanied by a BBC film crew which is making a second series of The Harbour, the popular television programme about the life of Aberdeen Harbour.

The common theme in these cruise ship shore excursions trips was summed up by the region’s slogan, ‘Aberdeenshire, from mountains to sea – the very best of Scotland’.

Following the ship’s visit, delegates from across Europe, all partners in the EU Interreg IVB Cruise Gateway North Sea project, attended a best practice tour hosted by Aberdeenshire Council.

The event picked up on the Cruise Gateway project’s central themes, of encouraging and promoting much more cruise activity in the North Sea Region – while also focusing on the hinterland accessibility and sustainability, including the promotion of environmental awareness.

The delegates were already aware that Aberdeenshire’s Northern Coastline was recently listed in National Geographic’s top 12 worldwide coastal destinations, chosen by a panel of 340 experts in sustainable tourism and destination stewardship and that some 15 ships already plan to call at the regions ports this year.

The Aberdeen conference included a presentation by Andrea Nicholas, managing director of Green Business UK, which runs the national sustainable tourism certification scheme for the UK.

The partner delegates, from Denmark, England, Germany, Norway and Sweden, learned about the accessibility of the Aberdeenshire landscape and attractions through the ports of both Peterhead and Aberdeen. “These ports have seen a slow but steady growth in cruise calls in the past few years, and the number will increase in the longer term as a result of initiatives like the Cruise Gateway project,” said Philip Smart, representing Aberdeenshire Council.

Sebastian Doderer, representing Cruise Gateway’s lead partner, Port of Hamburg Marketing, said: “We chose Aberdeenshire for our best practice tour for the twin factors of the quality of the attractions on offer and the certification of attractions for Green Tourism, in which Scotland is a world leader. We could see first-hand what makes this such an attractive yet sustainable destination, with many iconic attractions on which to build a North Sea cruising package.”

Cruise Gateway delegates were impressed by the density of attractions, he added – not just the well-known whisky, golf and Royal connections, but also their quality and their grading for environmental sustainability.

“I feel this approach would underpin the development of the cruise product within the North Sea Basin, especially with the coming pressures of Sulphur Emission Control Areas and the growth of interest in no-fly and more environmentally sustainable holidays.”