WITH talk of uncapped bankers’ bonuses and a monarchy in transition, it would be easy to forget there’s an energy crisis hitting Scottish businesses and families.

After facing Brexit and the pandemic, Scottish rural industries have got a new challenge to adapt to – soaring fuel costs.

One of those businesses embracing improvisation is Venture West Boat Charters. Run by Sandy Campbell near Crinan, Argyll, the business offers boat trips around Scotland’s west coast for wildlife spotting, with whales, dolphins, eagles and basking sharks a regular highlight.

The National: Venture West looks to show off some of the best of what Scotland has to offerVenture West looks to show off some of the best of what Scotland has to offer (Image: unknown)

Capmbell spoke of how the skyrocketing cost of the diesel that the firm uses for its boats was forcing the business to change. With the company’s diesel costs now at £1.13p per litre, compared to the usually expected cost of between 60 and 80p per litre, adjustments had to be made.

He says: “We did have to put our regular trip price up at the beginning of the season. We’ve just about managed to hold it to where it is now.

“On a per person basis, we would have a margin because sometimes you’re not filling the boat. We would need 8 passengers per trip to cover costs but now you’re relying on the boat being full (12 passengers) to make it viable or profitable …

“Even though the boats are now full, our profit margins haven’t gone up at all.”

With fluctuating prices, that age-old enemy of business, uncertainty, rears its head. Changing fuel costs mean that for longer trips, Campbell prefers for bookings to be made closer to the time since giving a price subject to fuel changes could put customers off altogether.

Campbell says that for any business to work it must adapt to the circumstances it finds itself in and Venture West has done just that. Due to a higher fuel cost per head, the business is looking to reduce the number of longer trips it goes on.

“Now we’re probably at the stage where we can’t afford to do longer trips in case we can’t manage to get enough people to go to make the trip for us," Campbell says. 

"We ran a few trips like that earlier this year and we actually ended up doing the trip for nothing because of the cost of fuel."

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And it seems that customers are feeling the effect of rising costs as well with a noticeable change in client concerns.

Campbell says: “Guests weren’t too worried about the costs - now a lot of people are asking if we can do them a deal. I have to be honest with them, I couldn’t because we’ve already cut things to try and make it affordable for people."

With the Scottish tourism industry being hit particularly hard by rising costs, Campbell has concerns that the average working family could be priced out of domestic holidays, with increased reliance on higher-income customers a possible trend for the future.

Campbell says that the company is seeing more of a "higher end type of customer".

"People are enquiring to hire the whole boat and doing things that way. On the one hand, you're losing your average working man but still getting a high-end market, more so from abroad. There still seems to be money there.

“It looks to be going that way at the moment.”

The grip of the cost-of-living crisis has affected the local economy, too.

Campbell has noticed that while tourists are still arriving, they are less likely to spend on extra activities: “People are still visiting because they might have booked accommodation almost like a year in advance. But they’re tending not to do any other excursions while they’re here.

“Their money is tighter in general as well as the fuel costs of them travelling around. They’ve spent enough money just to get here.”

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One of the more peculiar markers of the crisis that Campbell has noticed is a drop in the number of a normally ubiquitous vehicle in the Highlands.

He says: “You see a lot less camper vans out on the road and a lot more of them advertised because of the costs of running them and keeping them.

“With the incomes not going up with the cost of living, like any luxury item, if you’re not needing it, it’s going for sale.”