The UK Borders Force has, with virtually no consultation, made a significant change to the way cruise passengers in transit are treated when they come ashore at UK ports.
Previously, cruise lines whose ships were scheduled to berth for given periods at UK ports would submit passenger and crew manifests well in advance of arrival. This gave the Borders authorities plenty of time to check out those on board and consequently clear them for entry in advance.
Now passengers are subjected to a face to face check of their documentation before they may come ashore.
There are cost implications for the cruise lines from this, as well as the obstructive nuisance-value to passengers.
The cruise industry has raised formal objections to this through the convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Marine Tourism group, Stuart McMillan.
Mr McMillan is alarmed that this change of pr0ocedure, in terms of passenger experience and of additional costs, looks likely to impact on cruise companies’ interest in scheduling visits to Scotland, which has been the major UK destination.
The MSP has now written formally to the UK Home Office Minister for Immigration, Mark Harper, asking for an urgent rethink of this new practice on border controls for cruise passengers – before they do lasting damage to the industry in Scotland.
This is no small matter.
In 2012 just under 400,000 people visited Scotland from cruise ships – with the industry overall showing a five-fold increase in numbers in the decade between 2000 and 2010.
Business from cruise ships currently contributes £41m to the Scottish economy – with Scotland named 2012 ‘Destination of the Year’ at the Seatrade Cruise Insider Awards.
Mike Cantlay of VisitScotland is quick to attribute this accolade in large part to the success of Brave, the Disney animation film for whose marketing campaign VisitScotland contributed £7 million.
While Brave does indeed show a range of images of Scotland;s spectacular landscape, we remain to be convinced that this particular film will achieve the impact hoped and claimed for it.
Any Disney film will be seen in large numbers and therefore return decently at the box office – but the good ones are all over the reviews. We have seen very little reviewing of Brave by the critics and media platforms likely to shape its impact and drive up its audiences.
It is a simplistic piece and often borders unhelpfully on the caricature – which is not helpful for a country aiming to be grown up and to attract a grown up audience.
Skyfall, though, is a very different matter. This is a cracking film, very well made, with a superBond plotline and is a runaway success. It has real life Glen Coe, Glen Etive and a major fire scene set in that glen, with Dalness Lodge – well, a model of it – burned out. And it’s just been nominated for Best Picture at the Producers Guild of America Awards. This film really will sell Scotland.
However, the UK Borders Force intervention in the operation of shore visits from cruise liners is clearly unhelpful to tourism industry development, to say the least.
With these ships carrying between three and four thousand passengers, it is not hard to imagine quite what an obstruction to the experience is a face-to-face document check for each of them.
Industry body, Cruise Scotland’s Chair, Richard Alexander, has told Stuart McMillan, in writing: ‘Scotland receives a large volume of transit calls arriving from foreign ports in comparison to the rest of the UK. A number of cruise lines have already expressed extreme dissatisfaction over the current UKBF stance on completing face-to-document checks and passing on additional unwelcome costs.
‘At a time when Cruise Lines are already facing increasing operational costs, this is effectively a new tax on their operations. They have also indicated that this will make the UK uncompetitive and unappealing and act as a deterrent for ships to call at UK ports.’
Mr NcMillan says: ‘“Serious concerns have been raised about the UK government’s immigration checks for cruise ship passengers that cannot be ignored.
‘I have written to Mr Harper to ask for clarity on how these rules are affecting Scotland as the voices from the industry say it is hugely negative and must be changed before it is too late.
‘I have heard passengers have faced lengthy delays as a result of this system, which is having a detrimental effect on the industry in Scotland.’
Mr McMillan’s intervention is timely and constructive. This is not an issue which can be left to pass by default. There is no practical benefit from its introduction beyond the previous procedure – which requires to be reinstated without delay.