Amidst all the gloom about the tourism season and the impact of the recession, there has been one area of our tourism market that remains a growth area.
Tourism might be in trouble, but the cruise industry here is enjoying one of its strongest years, and Dublin is becoming a favoured port of call.
In a year when foreign-visitor numbers nationally are expected to drop below six million, Dublin Port is set to experience a record year with 75,000 cruise-line passengers disembarking in the capital.
From April until the end of September, the season for cruise liners in this part of the world, 83 cruise liners are due to dock at Dublin Port, beating last year’s record of 79 cruise liners coming to town. In 1994, just 15 years ago, an average of six cruise ships a year docked in Dublin Port.
Since then, the market for cruise holidays has changed, becoming big business in northern Europe outside the traditional Caribbean, Mediterranean and transatlantic heartlands.
“Cruise-line companies were not aware of Dublin. It was not high on the radar as northern Europe was not generally on the agenda for luxury liners. Dublin would be viewed now as a destination for culture and history,” says a Dublin Port spokeswoman.
Cruise Ireland was set up in 1994 to coordinate the industry among ports such as Dublin, Cork, Waterford and Belfast and other interested parties, ranging from handling agents to the Guinness Storehouse and coach companies.
A survey by Dublin Tourism in 2006 estimated that the average spend per disembarking passenger is €113, not including accommodation. In all, cruise passengers spend between €35 million and €55 million a year in Dublin, a considerable tourism boost given that the trade hardly existed 15 years ago.
Yesterday, a German cruise liner the Delphin arrived into port in the early afternoon carrying a complement of 443 passengers and 225 staff. Although stretching nearly 200 metres from bow to stern, it is only a mid-size vessel compared to some that will visit the port this year.
The mainly elderly passengers had only a short stay in Dublin as the ship took off again at night fall. Although not in the same league as prime destinations such as Venice and Barbados, Dublin has gained a reputation as being one of the more lively ports of the northern European itinerary.
The Crown Princess , which is due another visit to Dublin Port, will disgorge more than 3,000 passengers on Saturday. The massive ship has an atrium styled after an Italian piazza where passengers can eat and “people-watch”, a theatre, a poolside cinema, a casino and nightclubs. It has been a huge coup for Dublin Port to get it to visit and it will stop here five times this season alone.
Disembarking from such a huge vessel is an impressive logistical feat in itself, and on Saturday morning, several dozen buses will be lined up on the quayside to take passengers into the city and beyond.
It and its sister ship, the smaller Tahitian Princess , which arrives tomorrow, will make it a busy weekend for cruise trade. Earlier this summer, the Tahitian Princess disembarked in Dublin at the end of one cruise and took on 750 passengers who had flown in from the US to join it at the start of another cruise.
The turnaround is particularly lucrative to the host city and the May visit by the Tahitian Princess generated 1,400 bed nights for the Dublin economy at a time when capacity is down elsewhere. It was the first ever international cruise to start its voyage in Dublin.
Usually, cruise journeys last around 12 hours, with the vessels typically coming into port early in the morning and departing on the evening tide. The most popular destination is not, as many might expect, Dublin city centre, but Wicklow, with Powerscourt and Glendalough being particular favourites.
David Hobbs, from Cafe2u, which provides coffee and snacks to disembarking passengers at the quayside, says the recession appears to have had little impact on trade this year.
“These cruises can be booked two years in advance so a lot of passengers would have booked them before the recession,” he says. “We’re talking here about old money. The type of people who go on cruises here have their money made, their mortgages are paid for, they have been saving for this for years.”
Cruises have traditionally been the preserve of the wealthy and the elderly. It is a perception that the industry, which has seen exponential growth in the last decade, is trying to move away from. The rise of adventure cruises has attracted a whole new audience and cruises have become competitively priced for families, too. Sunny cruises, especially in the Caribbean, have been pitched at a younger audience, but the northern European cruises also attract a traditional cruising crowd. “It’s more like God’s waiting room,” says Leo McPartland, a ship’s agent who handles some of the biggest cruise liners that arrive on these shores.
He says that while there has been a record number of cruise liners, the number of passengers has been slightly down. “Business is down a little bit, but it is nothing compared to other maritime sectors. Anecdotally, container traffic is down by anything between 25 per cent and 40 per cent.
“In cruise you have a little bit of up and a little down, but it is usually consistent. It is always on the American cruise-ship radar because generally when they are putting ships into Europe, Ireland is the first port of call because they will do a transatlantic.”