Tobermory, Oban, marinas, missed opportunities, cruise ships and Twitter

2013 Boat Show 20

Talking at the Scottish Boat Show yesterday, 12th October, with the very informed Mary MacGregor, Business Administrator of the admirably go-ahead Tobermory Harbour Association, brought a series of critical insights.

Tobermory Harbour Association is to apply for harbour authority status and we were discussing issues from cruise liners to marinas to attitudes to marine tourism.

While Oban did not feature in our discussion, some of what emerged is clearly germane to the future of the fragile local economy of the lovely west coast mainland town.

A group of Oban business folk, with a spectrum of political support at local and national level, have long been proposing the introduction of a transit marina at the town.

Tarbert has benefited from its marina, as have Ardfern, Craobh Haven, Rhu and Portavadie. Campbeltown, which saw the development of its own marina fall prey to other local priorities, intends to see its pontoon network enlarged.

Success is about the right formula in the right place – but one particular element is the key. Size does matter.

Tobermory marina is successful for one major reason – it is big enough and was designed to be so.

Its size lets it earn enough to maintain, reinvest and employ enough staff to make using it a sustainable professional business and a worthwhile and memorable experience for visitors.

It has committed volunteers whose supplementary presence adds to the general sense of helpfulness – and ready access to local knowledge – that visitors value so much.

Unambitious proposals for a minimal pontoon facility and someone who danders down the pontoons to collect the berthing fees are doomed to fail. They may get grant funding to set up such a facility but such outfits cannot earn enough to be able to pay for the unavoidable maintenance and regular reinvestment needed.

Attempts to get a second helping of public money later, to maintain the safety and physical security of the facility cannot succeed where no sustainable business can be demonstrated.

Such a setup cannot justify the berthing fees any ambitious but under specified enterprise would have to charge. As Mary MacGregor says, you have to be able to answer the question: ‘So what do I get for my £40?’

The expertise of the Tobermory Harbour Association, acquired through experience, is vital to Oban, with Argyll and Bute Council on the brink of making a decision on the proposal to establish a walk-ashore transit marina at the town.

It is already apparent how much business and business development the town is missing through the long delays in progressing this proposal.

The Commonwealth Flotilla – a missed opportunity to cry for

Just look at what is coming in 2014 and the extent to which Oban will be unable to benefit from it as fully as it might have been.

Next year, 2014, there is to be a spectacular Commonwealth Games Flotilla, starting in Shetland, mustering as it goes – moving west along the north coast, then south through the Minches, through the Sound of Mull, then south – with the smaller yachts going through the Crinan Canal and the rest round the Mull of Kintyre and into the Clyde.

The plan is to use the James Watt dock a Greenock – but preferably, if pontoon are available, to go on up the river to mark – very directly the launch of the Games.

Something like 400 yachts are expected to be in this once-in-a-lifetime flotilla, bringing together so many of Scotland’s island and coastal cultures.

A logical mustering point would have been Oban, with the flotilla virtually flushed into the Bay at the end of the passage through the Sound of Mull.

But Oban has no facilities to accommodate this so the likelihood is that the majority of the fleet will divert to Dunstaffnage Marina, north of the town.

Oban has no fuelling facilities for yachts in passage – and Argyll and Bute Council – for whatever  reason, has been unwilling to countenance the inclusion of onsite fuelling at a potential transit marina. For comparison, look at the service savvy Portavadie Marina, with fuel and water stations on every flight of pontoons.

400 yachts would have refuelled conveniently at Oban. That’s business. They would have taken on supplies there. That’s more business. A handfull of boats may visit as best they can but the majority will not because the facilities they need are  not there.

Enterprising local food producers may now consider arranging with Dunstaffnage Marina to have a farmer’s market in residence at the marina for the duration of the flotilla muster.

The presence of the flotilla in Oban Bay would have drawn spectators and the media to the town – again increasing earnings for local businesses. Had the transit marina been in place, Oban might have been in a position next year to welcome this flotilla to a superb facility.

This would have been an immediate benefit to the local economy. More importantly, through the media coverage it would have attracted, it would have established at large the presence and capability of the marina, without spending a penny on marketing it.

An opportunity of this scale and commercial potential will not come again in our lifetime.

However, in settling for the normal progression of things, without the following wind this event would have brought, the town’s business people and/or the council must summon genuine wisdom to support what decision they make on the proposed transit marina.

Social media and maximising benefit from cruise liner visits

The conversation with Mary MacGregor became a three-way one with Mike Story. CEO of Argyll and the Isles Tourism, joining in.

Looking at the use of social media, it is important to understand that facebook is a potentially powerful marketing tool in spreading information – but cannot double as a website.

facebook is intrinsically unable to provide structured information of the sort that is a key element of people’s information needs.

What we are seeing today is a tendency to think that all you need is a facebook page. This may be enough for essentially internal community communications and for broadcasting upcoming events but it is seriously inadequate in furthering the spectrum of business interests.

If used strategically, Twitter is in many ways more versatile – as is obvious in a suggestion made by Mike Story and included below.

Maximising the value of cruise ship visits

Both Tobermory and Oban have had a good summer with an increase in the number of cruise liners booked in for 2014.

Argyll and the Isles Tourism has met with representatives of the cruise sector to establish how best the interests of the local economy might be more systematically supported in such visits.

There is an issue of competition.

When liners come in to a set destination during a cruise, pre-arranged tours for passengers are pre-booked. The cruise lines earn commission from this business and so are understandably reluctant to support advance information for passengers of local services which might compete with their own arrangements.

However, they are happy with information on what people might expect to see and do in walking along the street.

Mike Story had a particularly neat insight here. He suggested that local businesses with, say, special offers or opportunities or events, might simply use Twitter to announce them, using hashtag with the name of the cruise ship – as in ‘#Serenissima’ – so that passengers coming ashore and logging in to Twitter,  as so many do, would get the Twitter feed coming through on these announcements.

Local tourism groups would naturally keep their members informed of imminent arrivals – with the rest being up to the initiative and imagination of local businesses.

One thing is imperative. With the richness and variety of Argyll’s natural resources supporting sailing, cruising, diving, sea kayaking, marine wildlife tours, coastal rowing, surfing, sailboarding and coasteering – we must do everything we can to harness these resources into service businesses to grow our economy, our expertise and the jobs we can sustain.

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17 Responses to Tobermory, Oban, marinas, missed opportunities, cruise ships and Twitter

  1. Even if the marina cannot be equipped with a fuel berth(it would need a secure site ashore for a bunded tank so may not be practical), it’s not exactly rocket science to arrange for a fuel barge to present for this historic event.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  2. Marinas and pontoons everywhere – who needs them? They are part of the mad dash by the already well off to become super rich on the back of sailing tourists. As usual the little man is squeezed out or at best ignored.

    Tobermorey is to become a harbour authority which I assume means they can charge people for anchoring in the bay. I remember this happening in Tarbert (Loch Fyne) back in the 70s/80s. I did not, and still do not, see what right they had to charge you for using your own anchor in the harbour. I avoided the place thereafter as far as was possible.

    My point is that all Newsy’s grandiose business plans are not going to benefit the man in the street with a small boat. They will benefit the more affluent and lazy sailors who cannot live without the convenience of stepping of and on via a pontoon and they will greatly benefit the entrepreneurs.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 10 Thumb down 12

    • Damn those Oban folk for wanting yachties to come and spend their filthy lucre. The area where the pontoon is proposed isn’t any use for anchoring as it’s a drying beach, and Oban bay is rubbish for anchoring as you would spend your time being rolled around by the wash from the CalMac ferry, sundry cruise ships, trawlers and trip boats.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  3. Yup, such a small minded plan to bring more trade to Oban. It will only benefit a handful ….. The owners of the restaurants, pubs, shops and services, plus the people that work there. Also all the local tourist attractions and outdoor activity providers, and any other business in the area that depends upon the footfall of tourists. More money for local businesses means more survive long term to the benefit of locals all year round.

    From my experience working in the accommodation sector I know that the best form of advertising is word of mouth, and it is amazing how many holidays get booked up for the next year once this years tourists go home and show their holiday snaps in the office or post them on facebook.

    The knock on effect of all those cruise liner guests or sailors going home and telling their friends, families and co-workers about the delights of the oban area is priceless.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  4. This town is on its knees, Surely anything that brings more trade to the town can only help. These yachties spend money in shops, pups, restaurants, getting their stores, staying overnight in hotels/b&bs when changing crews. Is that not what Oban is about, providing these services!!!!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  5. For Jim B: What we’re trying to say here is that it is important not to do something like the transit marina project in a halfhearted way.
    If the town does not generally want it – for whatever reasons, it would be better not to do it at all than to do something at a tokenist level that would be disabled from the outset. That would create a loss all round.
    And yes, there is an aesthetic issue to be considered.
    The question for Oban is what DOES it propose to do to earn the sustainable economic growth it absolutely needs?
    The town has to commit to something and get on with making it work.
    It is always easier to do nothing, sit on the sidelines and take potshots at other peoples ideas.
    Those who have proposed the transit marina have put years of each of their lives into it; and Oban businesses have put money into it. These things alone do not necessarily make them right – but they have put themselves on the line and given it a real go.
    Who else has done anything like as much to float and give substance to any other proposition?
    Has there been any other proposition?
    The core issue is, if not this, then what?
    Oban cannot drift and do nothing – look at Dunoon and Rothesay and learn that sharp lesson. We have to help ourselves these days – risk is less and investment safer where there is widespread commitment to making something work.
    We are saying is that if the transit marina project goes ahead, it has to be done well and at the correct scale to allow it to support itself into the future.
    The worst of all possible outcomes is to do a bit of it – enough to raise the issue of aesthetic loss without any prospect of economic gain.
    It’s simple – make a clean decision. Do it or don’t do it. But don’t mess around.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

    • Newsroom is 100% correct. Never mind, all will now be sorted as we have the dynamic Councillor Alistair MacDougall now going to be in charge at Oban instead of the not so go ahead Councillor Duncan MacIntyre who is only worried about the Oban by-pass and Oban Airfield.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  6. I presume “Transit Marina” means that a boat can spend a night or two as part of a holiday, like say a caravan site.
    Several times a year we sail to Oban for a night to go to movies or Corran Halls, do a bit of shopping and have a meal.
    During the summer Kerera and the bouys at the Club get a bit crowded, then anchoring takes some thought.
    You would have a job trying to beat Tobermory at this, they have the best showers, laundry and pontoons on the coast and staff are great, friendly and helpful. It was £28 if I remember, including electric and water and nice round ended, rubber edged pontoons ! If, on occasions, we have to anchor you can get quite close in AND use the facilities, so I would not mind paying a few quid to anchor.
    As a cost comparision, park your car and stay in a B&B in Oban or Tobermory for an overnight stay and see how much change you get out of £28.
    If Oban can do it as well as Tobermory it’s feathers in caps all round.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  7. In the 80s I spent time corresponding with the ‘Harbour Committee’ at Tobermory trying to make them realise the importance of visiting sailors and the money they brought in – if I remember rightly the Association Secretary owned ‘ Togs and Clogs ‘ at that time. I was pushing for the minimum – just a pontoon to take visitors rubber dinghies when we went ashore to spend our money. However the 3 or4 fishing boats that came to the pier to unload on a Sunday night took priority seemingly and the rest of us were of no great consequence. It took the Officer appointed by the Crown Estates to tell the harbour committee to get themselves sorted- or else. The rest is history and a very successful history it is too. Just wish I was still in the charter business so our clients could enjoy these new facilities.
    Drop the stupid socialist name calling ‘moneyed yachties’. Most people who go sailing in the UK and especially the West Coast are certainly not ‘moneyed’ which is why many join together to pay to share a yacht.
    As far as Oban is concerned there is one governing factor – the occasional North Westerly storm which can be devastating – I welcome the transit marina but it is just such a pity that the will cannot be found to build a properly protected marina – I am sure there would rarely be an empty berth. The other major problem is of course car parking – the eternal Oban problem.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5

    • It would indeed be a waste of money to do so; it’s not beyond the wit of man to procure a breakwater to shelter from the only direction that presents significant wave action. With the proposed marina there is a fair amount of foreshore that will be left undredged; there’s no reason this couldn’t be reclaimed and used for parking and amenity space.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

      • I remember one of the times that a ‘proper’ marina was proposed out to the Corran ledge, with car parking, that the Oban Times had letters from people complaining about the possibility of banging Halyards. Now there is nothing more annoying on a windy night but it can be sorted. Not to create the most prestigious West Coast Marina for reasons like that and many others which were put forward at the time was ridiculous. But I suppose at the end of the day it was all down to lack of funds. But for Oban, in this day and age, not to have a very major Marina is surely unacceptable. Every other major country in the world would have done something about building an important yachting base by now, given Oban’s superior shoreside situation.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  8. ‘ Robert the doubter’ as always. If I remember rightly it was Mr P J Korbel – based in Tarbert Loch Fyne who was appointed the first Crown Estates Moorings Officer. Tobermory was a hotchpotch of moorings with old ground tackle on the sea bed just waiting to foul anchors. Basically he had the power to say something had to be done and some enterprising people in Tobermory got on with it and did a magnificent job.
    Read and learn Robert – Mr Korbel is mentioned on the last page:-

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  9. JimB– What a small minded attitude you have, just what has held up development in Oban over the years.
    Long term, ordinary people will gain from this development as this will help Oban prosper, not just the “Super Rich”(who ever they are?? not on the dole is that?)

    “JimB-”Tobermorey is to become a harbour authority which I assume means they can charge people for anchoring in the bay.”"

    That is Tobermory by the way.

    You would do well to look to what the Tobermory Harbour Association has achieved in Tobermory and why it is going in that direction. It is about not letting the place stagnate.

    Given the chance Oban can regain what is has lost, but it needs people who are go ahead, not inward looking and bitter…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

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