Insurance costs could ruin eco-tourism industry, Cork business owners claim

The couple who run one of Ireland's oldest dive schools and whale-watching businesses has pleaded with the government to tackle the insurance crisis and save the eco-tourism industry.

Insurance costs could ruin eco-tourism industry, Cork business owners claim

The couple who run one of Ireland's oldest dive schools and whale-watching businesses has pleaded with the government to tackle the insurance crisis and save the eco-tourism industry.

Rianne and Jerry Smith who run Aquaventures in Baltimore, West Cork, said they have just days to find a new insurer for their main boat, Wave Chieftan, after one of the last insurance firms covering the sector pulled out of the Irish market.

"Brexit and Ireland's compo culture were given as the two main reasons and we were told to get our government involved," Ms Smith said.

Businesses like this are hugely important to local economies like ours, with people coming to places like this to go out on the water, spending time here, staying, eating and drinking in the areas.

"But the insurance situation is affecting all of us now."

Their boat featured in a stunning photograph, taken in 2012, of a humpback whale breaching behind whale-watchers in the waters off the southwest coast. It went viral around the world.

Photographs like it have drawn thousands of visitors and international attention to the abundance of wildlife in Irish waters.

The couple has been in business since 1997 and has never had a successful claim against them. If they can get a quote for their boat, they fear their renewal costs could be up to five times what they've been paying.

Ms Smith said they have seen their whale-watching business grow in recent years thanks to the Wild Atlantic Way initiative, and an explosion in popularity of eco-tours.

But she said the insurance crisis could decimate the industry.

"At the peak of the boom, there were about 40 companies running dive schools around Ireland. We are one of just seven left now," she said.

"We have been with the same broker since 1997 and we have never had a successful claim against us. We were paying €1,800 a year for the boat.

"But we know of one dive school who got just four days' notice of the withdrawal of the insurance provider. He had no option but to pay €5,000 for his insurance. That's just not sustainable.

Our policy was up for renewal in May, when our broker told us the British insurer was pulling out.

"We got a one-month extension, followed by another one-month extension, and we've got the feelers out now in the Irish market.

"It's mid-season and we can't operate without insurance. We are facing a massive increase in insurance costs if this isn't sorted out."

Operators in the Irish leisure sector largely rely on British insurers as Irish-based insurers are reluctant to provide cover, citing large losses on what is called liability insurance.

The decision by the British insurer to not quote in the Irish market anymore puts thousands of jobs at risk in event companies, adventure centres, some play centres, bouncy castle companies, leisure centres, and even in yoga and drama classes.

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