As any local resident leaving a wedding, a festival concert or a big Orkney bash will tell you, when they head out to the car-park and see a vehicle with ‘J+V Coaches’ emblazoned on the side, they know they’ll be going home in style.
So you can imagine Orkney’s cruise ship passengers are impressed when they step onboard their own coach, ready for a tour of our famous sites. They’re in good hands with this local company.
J+V Coaches, owned and operated by Orcadians Jimmy and Vega Poke, has been touring cruise ship passengers around Orkney since the couple bought their first coach back in 2002. As the cruise trade has grown, so has the business, which now has an impressive fleet at its Stromness base.
‘We have twenty two coaches in total, ranging from mini to midi to full size, and now we have three bendy-buses as well,’ said Vega.
Things have come a long way since the couple started off in business by buying a local taxi company nearly twenty years ago. ‘We progressed as the need was there,’ said Jimmy. ‘Once we got involved with the cruise trade in 2003 it just seemed to get a lot busier very quickly and we had to keep moving with the times.’
Now the cruise ship season makes up the main part of the summer for J+V Coaches. Its fleet of coaches meets the passengers as they disembark in Kirkwall or Stromness and takes them on their tours of Orkney’s main sites, including the Ring of Brodgar, the Italian Chapel and Skara Brae. The company’s ‘bendy-buses’ also shuttle other passengers into the centre of Kirkwall so they can discover the town’s shops and other local attractions in their own time.
It all seems relatively simple on the surface, but the organisation that goes into ensuring the Orkney experience is the best it can be for the visiting passengers takes some believing.
‘Jimmy is in around half past five some mornings to get all the coaches started and things moving,’ said Vega. ‘I put together the itineraries and organise the drivers so they know when they’re needed and what their routes are, then they go through their daily checks and off they go. All being well, we won’t hear from them again until they come back to base at the end of the day.’
According to the couple, it’s that level of preparation that is key. The aim is to provide a quality service by being organised and keeping the fleet clean, polished and safe. ‘We can only do that because of the staff we have,’ said Jimmy. ‘They really are very important to what we offer, from the mechanics in Stromness to the pool of drivers we have that help us out. Without them we wouldn’t be able to do this.’
The business has 8 full-time employees, including Jimmy and Vega, and a growing squad of on-call drivers who can be available at short notice, all based at the purpose-built garage and office in Stromness. The cruise ship trade is vital to the sustainability of the company, as it grows to meet demand. Meanwhile, the winter months are quieter as the focus moves on to private hires and school contracts. But for them both, that side of the business is no less important.
‘The summer can be a daunting thought, especially at the peak of the season, but the winter is a challenge too,’ said Jimmy. ‘There is less work and we have to maintain the fleet as well. But our customers during that part of the year are as valued as much as the others – the quality of service we aim to provide really is the key.’
There aren’t too many businesses in Orkney that have seen such a rapid growth in a relatively short space of time, but as the reputation of the islands as an ideal cruise ship destination has risen, so have the opportunities on-shore for the likes of Jimmy, Vega and their dedicated staff.
‘It is hard work but once you’re doing it, it’s fine. I like it,’ said Jimmy. ‘It’s just what we do,’ according to Vega.
And they’re doing it very well indeed.