TOURISM businesses on the Isle of Arran are contemplating staying closed until 2021 amid continuing concern over the lack of ferry capacity serving the island.

CalMac, the state-owned ferry operator, introduced a new timetable at the weekend which increased the number of sailings serving the main Ardrossan to Brodick route.

But with the two-metre social distancing rule continuing to constrain passenger numbers, there are fears the additional sailings will not be enough to support the island’s tourism industry.

As Scotland continues to gradually exit lockdown, the Scottish tourism industry is due to begin reopening from July 3, when self-catering holiday accommodation is allowed to reopen. The tourism industry will reopen in full on July 15.

However, the Arran Ferry Action Group says some tourism businesses on the island are deciding whether to “hunker down” and remain in mothballs until next year.

Sam Bourne, a spokesman for the group, said: “I know some businesses have decided not to reopen, hotels, guest houses, and self-catering accommodation providers. They do not have the confidence to hire staff, they do not have the confidence to buy stock and consumables to feed people.

“To ramp up to open you have to spend money that there is no guarantee you will get back.”

He added: “Even if it [tourism] is back up and running [businesses are worried] they won’t have enough revenue to cover costs.”

The timetable brought in by CalMac on Sunday increases the number of daily sailings undertaken by the MV Caledonian Isles between Ardrossan and Brodick to five from two, and restores a service on Sundays, with four sailings on those days. However, because of the two-metre social distancing rule, the vessel will still only run at about 10 per cent of its usual 1,000 capacity.

While as many as 4,000 passengers are normally ferried between Arran and the mainland per day in July, numbers are currently limited to 500.

Mr Bourne said that even if the service returns to its usual summer frequency after the tourism industry reopens on July 15, the reduced capacity means it may not be viable for businesses on Arran to reopen.

In addition to the limitations on capacity, Mr Bourne said the new timetable exacerbates the situation facing Arran locals because CalMac will no longer reserve spaces for people who need to travel to the mainland for vital medical appointments.

He noted that by the time people receive notice of medical appointments, which is often less than one week in advance, the 100 places for the key morning sailing off the island and return crossing will already have been taken.

Mr Bourne said this contrasts with the position for residents on the Western Isles, who he said have been given a commitment that places will always be made available for people travelling for medical appointments.

Mr Bourne said: “There is no guarantee [for people on Arran]. Is there a special deal for the Western Isles? This is critical. The backlog for medical appointments is huge.”

Meanwhile, the Arran Ferry Action Group has welcomed confirmation from CalMac that it will permit passengers to stay in their vehicles on the crossing between Lochranza on Arran and Claonaig on the Kintyre peninsula when it resumes on July 15, after securing an exemption from the Marine and Coastguard Agency (MCA). The route is served by the MV Catriona.

Mr Bourne said: “We are slowly making progress, [but] even the north ferry is 12 passengers maximum and one sailing a day. It is marginal.”

The intervention from the group comes after it warned earlier this month that ferry capacity constraints due to coronavirus were making life on the island “unsustainable”.

A spokesman for Transport Scotland said the organisation has worked with CalMac to try and move from the essential lifeline timetable introduced during lockdown to a “shoulder’ timetable by July 15. “However, capacity challenges will remain as a result of physical distancing requirements on vessels that are required to protect public health and to ensure compliance with MCA regulations also,” he added.

The spokesman said CalMac will retain 20% capacity for “turn up and go” travel after consulting islanders who raised concerns over securing space for “family visits and other allowable trips”.