Volcanic ash a boost to homegrown tourism

THE volcanic ash cloud has at least two silver linings.

Homegrown tourism is booming as Irish holidaymakers swap Corfu for West Cork and ferry operators report the best season for years.

Since the volcanic ash crisis first struck last month, Irish Ferries has been enjoying the busiest period in its history.

“At one point throughout the original crisis, bookings were up 1,200% on the same period a year before,” said Ashley Hall, a spokesperson for the company.

And, while most of that increase came from visitors making emergency alternative travel plans, ferry operators in Ireland now find that new custom is coming from people who have experienced the advantages of travelling by boat.

“When the cloud first descended and air traffic restrictions were put in place, ferries represented the only alternative means of travel for many people. Now people are beginning to realise it can be a far more pleasant way to travel.

“It used to be that ferries were little better than cattle boats while air travel was comfortable and luxurious; now, it’s the other way around. Long queues, having to be at the airport two hours ahead, and being almost strip-searched at airports have all taken their toll. For many, the volcanic ash situation is the last straw.”

Mr Hall said many holiday makers – particularly couples with young children – were no longer prepared to take the risk of spending nightmare hours at airports with toddlers.

“We are looking at a big increase in people looking at other ways of getting to their holiday destination. Those who would, traditionally, have been air travellers are now looking to ferries as a real alternative. We haven’t hiked up our prices either. We are charging the same as we did last year.”

Irish Ferries operates four boats, including its flagship Ulysses – the biggest car ferry in the world with a capacity to take 2,000 passengers, 1,300 cars or 260 articulated trucks.

The company operates four sailings a day to Britain from Dublin and Rosslare, along with sailings three days a week to France.

Meanwhile, Fáilte Ireland said there has been a “significant uplift” for hoteliers, B&Bs and self-catering operators around the country.

John Concannon, director of market development at the State tourism agency, said the air traffic chaos was giving the trade a shot in the arm as people forsake foreign destinations for a “staycation” – an amalgam of stay-at-home and vacation.

Mr Concannon said most hoteliers, bed and breakfast operators and self-catering businesses reported a surge in business, particularly from Irish tourists who have ditched plans for a break abroad.

“The official data is about six months away but our intelligence, from people talking to businesses on the ground, says the Irish market is showing a bounce at the moment,” he said.

“People who were going away for the weekend to Paris or Amsterdam for example are saying let’s still go away, but let’s go to Cork, Galway or Kilkenny.”

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