Cruise liner visits to Ireland are unlikely to recover fully until 2023, which will lead to a major drop in tourism revenue for towns such as Cobh.
The town in Cork Harbour was due to host 105 liner visits this year and a further 110 liners were booked to tie up there in 2021. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has hit cruise line companies hard and a Government ban on all liner visits to ports remains in place, although some companies are running cruises off the Irish coast.
The chairman of an umbrella body which represents 140 European ports dealing with cruise liners has said if the ban was lifted he could see some smaller liners visiting the country before the end of the year.
Captain Michael McCarthy, chairman of Cruise Europe, said the Irish economy would lose an estimated €60m per year from cruise liner tourism if the ban is not lifted.
Capt McCarthy, who lives in Cobh, said that town's economy had “taken a massive hit” as a result of the pandemic.
He added that there was also a knock-on effect in Cork City because many of those who disembarked in Cobh also visited there.
"I obtained figures in 2017 from Irish Rail which showed that year 40,000 cruise liner passengers got on the train in Cobh and travelled into Cork," he said.
“We are lobbying the EU to come up with protocols to restart the cruise industry and make it safe for passengers and to ensure they and the crews are Covid-19 free when they arrive here. The EMSA (European Maritime Safety Association) has written up guidelines on this. There is enormous appetite among the cruise lines to come back to Ireland and they will return as soon as possible” he said.
Capt McCarthy pointed out that ferries continued to operate between Ireland and the UK and the Continent throughout the lockdown. While they primarily carried freight a number of British tourists disembarked from them.
“We need direction and I'm working with other EU countries to try and get the cruise liners back up and running and visiting Ireland. Cruise lines are questioning when Ireland will reopen. Cruises have already restarted out of Germany. However, I don't see the bigger ships coming back until next year. Getting them all back will be a slow burner. I don't see a recovery of 2019 levels until maybe 2023,” Capt McCarthy said.