Ireland's cruise tourism is on a roll, but it could soon
fizzle following an announcement by Dublin's port that it will halve the number
of cruise calls allowed there to provide more dock space for cargo ships.
The move comes as Ireland braces for Brexit, the exit of
Britain from the European Union, which, when it happens, will mean that more
cargo from EU countries will head directly to Ireland rather than being
trans-shipped to or from the U.K.
Eamonn O'Reilly, CEO of Dublin Port Co., told the Irish
Examiner newspaper that although the new cruise curbs were not directly
attributable to Brexit, the port is reallocating nearly 20 acres for new border
posts and inspection facilities. That contributed to his decision to cut annual
cruise calls to about half this year's 160.
Starting in 2021, Dublin will allocate space during the
prime summer months for only two cruise ships per week. Moreover, those ships
will only be allowed to dock on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays.
In addition, the port will completely ban any turnaround
cruises that begin or end in Dublin. In the off-season, only one cruise booking
will be accepted each week, and then only midweek.
"The effect of this new policy will be to restrict the
annual number of cruise ships in Dublin Port to about 80 starting in 2021,"
O'Reilly said in a statement. "This is the same level of cruise ship
activity in Dublin Port in 2010."
Cruise lines, through CLIA UK & Ireland, called the
retreat "very worrying" and urged O'Reilly and the port to
A statement from CLIA said, "This decision, we believe,
has been taken without considering the impact it will have on the other ports
in Ireland and on Ireland itself. The number of cruise calls will dramatically
drop across all Irish ports as a result of the Port of Dublin's plans."
Ireland has made a concerted effort in the past few years to
attract more tourists. This year, it launched the "Fill Your Heart with
Ireland" campaign in 20 global markets, backed by $51 million, a 28%
increase over last year.
Irish critics of the Dublin Port cutback assert that it
undermines everything the country has tried to do in tourism.
Last year, about 11.2 million visitors came to Ireland, a 6%
Irish cruise tourism has also been on the upswing. According
to the Irish government's Central Statistics Office, 264,763 passengers arrived
in Ireland in 2017, the latest year for which figures are available.
That was a 19% increase over 2016.
Dublin's share of the take was 146,429 passengers, which
represents a 33% increase, thanks to the growing number of turnaround cruises
leaving and returning to Dublin Port.
This year, both Celebrity Cruises and Princess Cruises have
ships that homeport in Dublin. For example, the Celebrity Reflection will begin
an 11-day Norwegian fjords cruise on May 26 in Dublin that returns to the city
on June 3.
Turnaround cruises far exceed day calls in economic impact
because they may be provisioned by local suppliers, and many guests stay
overnight in Dublin for pre- or post-cruise visits to the city.
One factor in the growth of Dublin as a turnaround port has
been Dublin Airport, where international flights are cheaper than at the London
airports and which is closer to Dublin Port than London airports are to England's
major cruise port, Southampton.
Those turnarounds would come to a screeching halt under
Dublin Port's plan.
While cruise has been growing, the Dublin Port statement
said cargo has been holding its own as well and represents a far larger
business for the port, one that can operate year-round, unlike cruising, which
is more seasonal.
Cargo volumes have grown 36% since 2012, prompting a big
dock improvement program and a rethink about how to allocate dock space, the
port statement said.
"Since the 1980s, Dublin Port has provided considerable
financial support from its own resources to develop cruise tourism to the
capital," the port said. Going forward, if cruise lines want to have more
berth space in Dublin, new berths will have to be built, and they will require "co-financing
and/or long-term financial guarantees from cruise lines," the port said.
Some Irish politicians, however, said the move was more
about Brexit's impact on Ireland's cargo sector than anything else.
An exit by Britain from the EU without a solid trade
agreement would mean that most Irish exports bound for EU countries would no
longer be sent through the U.K., but would have to be shipped direct. The same
would be true in reverse for imports.
In its statement, CLIA said that it "understands the
challenges the Port of Dublin faces in terms of Brexit, but its decision to
reduce their presence in the Irish cruise sector is very disappointing."
CLIA highlighted the role that Dublin plays as a pied piper
for cruise tourism to other ports on the Irish coast, which it called "the
knock-on effect at the other ports across the island of Ireland."
Without Dublin, cruise lines might also drop calls to Cork,
for example, which hosted nearly 100,000 cruise passengers in 2017, according
to the Central Statistics figures.
Dublin-Belfast is another popular combo. As the capital of
Northern Ireland, Belfast is part of the U.K., but it lies only 90 miles north
of Dublin and is on the sea route north to Iceland, Norway and the Baltic.
In 2017, Northern Ireland hosted 168,100 cruise passengers
and crew, of which more than 80% went to Belfast.