Invergordon, Scotland, will welcome the first cruise ship of the 2012 season this week, with the Marco Polo calling on April 25.

In total, the Cromarty Firth is due to welcome 64 cruise ships, carrying 75,060 passengers over the season and is due to run from April until September.

Eight ships are paying a maiden visit to the Port of Invergordon and it is projected that on 11 occasions this year, the Firth can expect to host two ships at one time, all of which demonstrates the importance of the cruise industry to the tourism sector of the Highlands and Islands.

The cruise sector has seen growth year on year. The Port of Invergordon can now boast a 20%increase on the previous record for the number of ships that call in one season.

Last year it was estimated that in the region of £10m was generated in direct and indirect income for the Highlands, as a direct result of the cruise sector, an economic contribution for which Invergordon and the wider region benefit.

This growth would have been impossible without the port infrastructure and facilities that have developed in the Firth over the last 30 years, complimenting the existing oil and gas sector.

The arrival of the Marco Polo on the 25th April marks the first of four visits this season for this particular ship and helps to demonstrate the commitment of the cruise industry to the Cromarty Firth and recognizes the unique benefits of the geographical location of the Firth.

Captain Iain Dunderdale, Cruise Manager for Cruise Highlands, the joint venture between Cromarty Firth Port Authority and Bannerman’s, commented: ”2012 looks set to be our strongest performing year.  The greeting received by tourists from the local community is a factor in attracting repeat visits from cruise ships.

The volunteers of the Invergordon Tourism Alliance will continue their valuable role in greeting and assisting the tourists as they disembark and head into the town. “

Commenting on the growth the cruise sector has seen in recent years, Captain Ken Gray, Chief Executive and Harbour Master of CFPA, added “With multiple visits forecast, demand has increased for additional berth facilities and this will be supported by the Cromarty Firth Port Authority’s exciting development program.”