TOURISM leaders have warned Scotland’s reputation as a desirable place to visit risks being undermined by high-profile interruptions to the ferry service.

The number of international visitors to Scotland reached a record 3.5 million in 2018, up 10 per cent on the year before, as the weakness of sterling since the 2016 Brexit vote continued to make the country attractive to holidaymakers from overseas.

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But there are fears that high-profile interruptions to ferry services, as occurred this month on the Oban to Tiree route when engine failure on the MV Clansman led to widespread disruption across the network, could lead people to think twice about visiting the Highlands and Islands.

Calls are becoming increasingly loud for the Scottish Government to invest in modernising the ageing fleet, though there appears to be no sign of conclusion to the dispute between Caledonian Maritime Assets, the public body which owns most of the ferries, and Ferguson Marine over the £97 million contract to build two new vessels for the west coast.

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Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said negative publicity surrounding ferry breakdowns “causes people to think about whether or not to take a holiday, or take a trip to the islands.”

Robert McKinnon, chief executive of Outer Hebrides Tourism, said CalMac had worked hard in preparation for the current tourism season after a disruption-hit 2018. But he said the tourism industry is conscious that the ageing fleet is already operating at maximum capacity, with little margin for error.

Mr McKinnon said: “We don’t want to just struggle through. We are on top ten lists globally [and] when [tourists] get here it has to be a great service.”