Irish ports will have their busiest ever cruise ship season in 2017 with over 300 vessels scheduled to visit ports and harbours around the country, writes John Daly.

This further extends the success of the past three years, which has seen a 50% increase in the number of cruise calls to Ireland. Cruise Ireland, an all-island marketing co-operative, believes that there is scope for even greater increases in the number of cruise ship visits.

“In the past 10 years the island of Ireland has outperformed the European marketplace, recording average annual growth in cruise passenger numbers of 13% against the European average across the same period of 9%,” said Cruise Ireland chairman Joe O’Neill.

“Feedback from cruise lines on their experience of visiting Ireland is very positive, and encouragingly the cruise industry is projecting the demand for Ireland as a cruise destination will continue with a 14% growth forecast to 2020,” he added.

Mr O’Neill cites Titanic Belfast recently being voted as the world’s leading tourist attraction — as well as the Guinness Storehouse, Blarney Castle, Giant’s Causeway and the Cliffs of Moher — as contributing to an awareness of Ireland as a cruise destination having grown significantly in recent years.

While most cruise ships dock at Dublin, Belfast and Cork; smaller ports such as Galway, Derry, Waterford, Killybegs and Dun Laoghaire are also attracting calls, spreading the economic impact of the cruise industry across the whole island.

Celebrity Cruises has become the first major cruise line to confirm Dublin Port as a home port during early summer 2018. From April until the end of June 2018, one of Celebrity Cruises’ Solstice-class ships, with up to 2,800 passengers, will offer cruises throughout northern Europe from Dublin.

Over 14,000 people are estimated to start their cruise holiday from Dublin on a Celebrity Cruises ship in 2018. The move is worth an estimated €6m to Dublin and the surrounding area in knock-on economic benefits.

“Celebrity Cruises has enjoyed significant support from our travel agent partners and guests throughout Ireland for many years; now we are saying thank you by basing one of the flagships of our fleet in Dublin for a mini season during early summer 2018,” said Jo Rzymowska, MD of Celebrity Cruises for the UK and Ireland.

“Calling Dublin home in 2018 is a major development to our European deployment.” During 2016, Dublin Port played host to over 180,000 cruise visitors on over 100 cruise ship calls, of which four were cruise ship turnarounds where the ship begins its sailing and guests embark.

“It has been a clear ambition of Dublin Port to attract a cruise line to offer our great city as a homeport,” said Pat Ward, head of corporate services at Dublin Port. “Celebrity Cruises will be an important step-change in our history, and the opportunities this new investment will bring are extensive.”

Saga Cruises’ MV Saga Pearl 2 began the Port of Cork’s cruise liner season in March, the first of 65 calls expected to visit Cork this season. Seven new liners will dock on their maiden call, while Princess Cruises’ MV Caribbean Princess - carrying 3,500 passengers - will make 14 visits this season. Approximately 160,000 passengers and crew are expected to visit the city and county between March and November, bringing an increased economic benefit for the region.

“The 2017 Cork cruise season is booming which is great for the port and the region,” according to Port of Cork commercial manager Captain Michael McCarthy. “The numbers of calls are up compared to 2016 and we feel very positive about this increase in business. It’s also very encouraging to see cruise lines bringing their newest vessels to Cork on maiden calls and choosing Cobh as part of their cruising route,” he said.

He added it is the port’s ambition to attract larger cruise ships and increase cruise calls to 75 per year.

“Already in 2018 the bookings are indicating we will achieve this goal, if not exceed it.” In 2016 Cruise Critic, the world’s leading cruise review site and online cruise community, announced the winners of the inaugural Cruise Critic Cruisers’ Choice Destination Awards with Cobh ranked second favourite cruise destination in the western Europe. The Port of Cork also operates Bantry Bay Port Company which will see eight cruise liners calling this summer.

Up to 90 cruise ships are expected to visit Belfast this summer, bringing 150,000 passengers to mark a new tourism high for the city. Belfast’s record cruise schedule for 2017 marks an unprecedented period of growth for city tourism and investment, underlining its appeal among cruise tourists from the UK, Europe and North American markets.

Belfast has established itself as the second busiest port of call in Ireland, and by the end of this year will have recorded 600 cruise ships since the first arrival in 1996.

Throughout 2017, 88 ships are scheduled to arrive, following the docking of the Marco Polo last month. Princess Cruises, which operates the giant 4,600-passenger and crew capacity Caribbean Princess, scheduled a record 14 stops this year.

“To welcome 88 ships this year is a tremendous endorsement of the great strides which Northern Ireland has made in recent years,” a spokesman for Belfast Harbour said.

“When we started pitching Belfast to cruise operators in the mid-1990s there was some scepticism about what could be achieved. This year, we’re welcoming a record number of visitors and vessels, including the 100th visit of a Princess Cruise ship, one of the best-regarded operators in the sector.”

August will be the busiest cruise tourism month this year, with 24 calls, including nine in one week.


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