Sailing to twenty-five destinations off Scotland's West Coast and in the Clyde Estuary, ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne has recognised and welcomed its role as a key player in Scotland's tourist industry. By sourcing local ingredients and developing partnerships with local food producers, the company is greatly enhancing visitor experiences on its Arran sailings - and beyond.
In 2011, Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) became the first ferry/transport operator to benefit from the one-to-one business advice offered by Scottish Enterprise’s Experiencing Scotland project. The initiative supports Scottish tourism businesses looking to offer distinctive Scottish produce on their menus.
The speciality food co-operative, Taste of Arran, had identified the island's ferry service - with its mix of locals and visitors - as an ideal platform for the firm's range of high-quality island produce. CalMac immediately embraced the idea, seeing the value in offering customers a literal taste of their destination, and in building partnerships with local suppliers.
But the move was not without its challenges. Safety legislation, rather than the regular rules of business, dictate a ferry's staffing levels, and bring higher-than-average costs. And although food and drink sales generated significant turnover, it was crucial to maximise profit margins.
With expert help from Experiencing Scotland's Catering Consultant, Sandra Reid, the key areas of menu selection, supplier relationships, and promotion were evaluated and improved creating an online bank of specials, guided seasonal and route-specific meals. Professional, consistent signage and promotional materials told the products' stories - backed by newly knowledgeable serving staff, fresh from learning visits to distilleries, breweries and local producers. The staff's enthusiasm naturally promoted the provenance of genuine Arran products and, across catering and retail outlets, profits increased.
Now, from the moment CalMac's Arran passengers step aboard their ferry, the emphasis is on enhancing the customer experience and on celebrating unique local produce including cheese, seafood and whisky. Product tastings are held on the ferries, and island activities are promoted during the journey. Today, more than ninety percent of on-board food and drink is sourced in Scotland - and it's now being promoted at the pre-boarding stage.
Moving forward, the company continues supporting local producers by sourcing a steady supply of products. Fairness to producers, suppliers and customers results in a competitive pricing strategy and, such is the success of the Arran venture, that route-specific food is now extended across the firm's twenty-five destinations. That activity is seeing new local partnerships being forged as more and more quality Scottish produce is enjoyed by CalMac's customers.
For Caledonian MacBrayne, adding value to the customer experience is a priority, and the firm's use of mystery shoppers and feedback reveals satisfaction rising steadily. By partnering with local enterprises and small-scale suppliers, and by offering passengers everything that's great about their destination, the firm is contributing to a far wider Scottish tourism offering.
"At CalMac, we see a trip on our ferries as very much a key part of our customers' holiday." says Anne Mitchell, the company's Onboard Development Manager, "During the sailing we have an opportunity to get our passenger's breaks off to the best start possible. By establishing and nurturing relationships with our local food and drink suppliers, and by promoting the activities our tourists will encounter on dry land, we can make their sailing a visitor event in itself, as well as playing a major role in Scottish tourism and the local island economies."
Find out more about CalMac and how Experiencing Scotland could help you.