With Cowes Week set to put the Isle of Wight in the hospitality spotlight from this weekend, ferry operator Wightlink has been preparing for the influx of guests.
The event is a key part of the British sporting calendar, taking place in early August each year.
A part of the British ‘season,’ it takes place on similar dates annually – this year from August 10th-17th – with visitors originally coming to the island between Goodwood and the Glorious Twelfth – day one of the grouse shooting season.
The event is a great mix of competitive sailing and a vibrant social scene and has evolved enormously since the early days; it now attracts up to 1,000 competing boats, around 8,500 competitors and at least 100,000 visitors.
Many of those enthusiasts will be visiting the Isle of Wight with Wightlink.
The company is the leading cross-Solent ferry operator carrying almost 4.5 million holidaymakers and islanders across the sea every year.
Eight ferries on three routes complete over 45,000 sailings annually, giving islanders an easy and frequent service to mainland Hampshire, and tourists an accessible way to enjoy a taste of island life.
The link is vital for tourism on the island.
As Keith Greenfield, chief executive of Wightlink, explains to Breaking Travel News: “Wightlink is one of the largest funders of Visit Wight, which represents more than 1,200 Isle of Wight companies and encourages people to choose the island for their holidays.
“Wightlink business development director, Clive Tilley, is the vice-chair.
“He also chairs a group aimed at bringing new events to the island to attract more visitors to discover its magic, predominantly during off-peak periods.
“Visit Wight connects with colleagues at VisitBritain to run familiarisation trips for journalists and broadcasters in the UK and across the world to see the Isle of Wight for themselves.
“Wightlink works closely with its partners, especially accommodation providers.
“One initiative in 2019 is the co-production of a welcome booklet for guests at a new holiday park complex.
“It also uses ferry consolidators to promote the island to overseas customers.
“Wightlink uses its marketing channels, including social media accounts with many thousands of followers, to showcase special events such as the iconic Isle of Wight Festival.
“This involves joint projects with attractions and community groups to highlight the wide range of accommodation and eating options and activities on the Isle of Wight.”
With seamless train connections to Portsmouth Harbour and Lymington directly to the Wightlink terminals, getting to the Isle of Wight could not be easier.
Passengers can step off the train from London, hop on a Wightlink catamaran and be on the island in just 22 minutes, while the car ferries take around 40 minutes from Portsmouth and Lymington.
On board, passengers and drivers alike can relax in the lounges and enjoy some refreshments before arriving on the island to enjoy the range of attractions, events and experiences that make the Isle of Wight a leading destination for tourists
This summer is set to be one of the busiest ever.
“Summer will see Wightlink’s environmentally friendly flagship Victoria of Wight sailing everyday between Portsmouth and Fishbourne,” continues Greenfield.
“The £30 million hybrid-energy ship arrived in the Solent in late August last year and immediately set new standards for comfort and efficiency.
“Victoria of Wight can carry more than 1,000 people and 178 cars on every hourly sailing.
“Some £15 million has also been spent in upgrading facilities at both Portsmouth and Fishbourne ports and building double-deck boarding ramps to reduce the turnaround time.
“A new initiative for summer is the introduction of four overnight round-trips on the Portsmouth Harbour-Ryde Pier Head FastCat foot passenger route to allow customers to enjoy a longer night out on both sides of the Solent at weekends.
“This is a four-month trial to assess the popularity of the service.”
He adds: “Wightlink will launch its Green Agenda later this summer and outline new measures to improve sustainability.
“Fast charging points for electric vehicles have already been installed at Portsmouth, Ryde, Fishbourne and Lymington.
“Wightlink enthusiastically supports Isle of Wight producers and sells a wide range of food and drink in its outlets on shore and on board its ships.
“They include sandwiches from Grace’s Bakery, traditional sponge cakes from Calbourne Classics, Island Roasted coffee, and Isle of Wight ales and gin.”
In further good news for travellers, Portsmouth International Port has confirmed construction firm Knights Brown will lead a multi-million-pound project to increase the size of docking facilities at the location.
The news means Portsmouth could welcome more 150,000 cruise passengers annually in the next few years, as the size of cruise ships the port can accommodate increases.
Work will begin in November, involving complex engineering procedures to reconfigure the cruise berth.
Once completed in the spring next year the port will be able to welcome ships up to 255 metres in length.
Mike Sellers, Portsmouth International Port director, said: “Portsmouth is in an enviable location for cruise, with world famous attractions and a dramatic waterfront, there are plenty of opportunities to grow the city’s share of the market.
“More passengers will also drive demand for additional hotels, an increased spend in shops and restaurants, not to mention putting Portsmouth on the international map.
“This is the start of an incredibly exciting and bold plan for cruise, over the next few years there will be a remarkable difference in how Portsmouth is perceived as a leading competitor thanks to our experienced cruise experts who have recently joined the senior management team.”
He added: “A successful cruise and ferry port provides a wide benefit to the city including a significant contribution towards employment, increased sales for tourist attractions, not to mention an opportunity for residents in the surrounding Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex area to experience convenient travel abroad.”
Increasing the length of ships the port can manage opens up more of the cruise market for the city, making the possibility of visits from the major lines such as Silverseas, Crystal, Fred. Olsen, Saga and CMV a regular occurrence.
The current cruise berth has a sloped level making it particularly challenging for accessing certain ships, the essential levelling work and creation of an additional dolphin – a fixed, permanent structure, separate to the berth, which acts as an extension for mooring – will mean ships up to 255 metre will be safely, and conveniently, handled at the Port.
The port has seen a steady number of cruise calls, with 50 expected in 2019 resulting in 50,000 passengers.
The aim is to grow to over 100 by 2022, delivering over 150,000 passengers.