00:00 Saturday 03 March 2012  Written by Leo McMahon

West Cork cruise liner potential

A STRATEGY on cruise liner tourism in West Cork, in particular at Bantry Bay, with 'massive potential' to market the region and complement the existing cruise terminal in Cobh, was formally launched by Deputy Mayor Declan Hurley and enthusiastically adopted by fellow members at a recent meeting of Cork County Council.

It followed a presentation in County Hall by Mr Sean Geary, cruise consultant and former deputy chief executive of the Port of Cork. He was appointed by the council's western division and compiled the 30-page document 'Report on Cruise Tourism in West Cork', which was circulated to councillors.

Cruising is the fastest growing travel sector worldwide with the number of passengers almost doubling from 9.7 million in 2000 to 18.8 million in 2010, said Mr Geary, and this was also reflected in Ireland, where the number of cruise liner visits over the same period rose from 77 to 202. This year, seven cruise ships were due to drop anchor off Bantry and Glengarriff and two off Castletownbere.

'Given a choice, cruise ship companies prefer to tie up alongside a pier rather than go to anchor and use tenders as they are obliged to do in Bantry Bay. However, despite this disadvantage and without any marketing, 48 cruise ships brought 19,000 passengers to this beautiful part of West Cork from 2001 to 2011 and this generated around €1m for the local economy.

'Cruise ship visits considerably enhance the PR value of a region. To ensure that West Cork benefits from the inevitable growth in cruise ship calls and that Bantry Bay's potential as a destination is fully exploited, it is essential that port facilities be upgraded', said Mr Geary, whose report highlighted current weaknesses and opportunities and made 15 recommendations.

'Cruise Bantry Bay'

Interviews he conducted with passengers who arrived by tender into Glengarriff indicated that they really liked what they saw and would visit again.

With the assistance, guidance and input of the county council, a new organisation should be formed by port and tourism interests to facilitate, promote and expand cruise tourism in Bantry Bay and its hinterland. A management/advisory board should also be put in place, a cruise director appointed and the establishment of a marketing agency, which could be called 'Cruise Bantry Bay', said Mr Geary. He suggested that test marketing be carried out with cruise companies before formally setting up the initiative, which could be possibly be funded through the council, Failte Ireland, the EU and West Cork Development Partnership.

Bantry Bay, he continued, was well placed to increase its status among existing Irish cruise liner ports such as Cobh, Foynes, Galway, Derry, Killybegs, Belfast, Dublin and Dun Laoghaire. In order to achieve this, it was also essential that energy and impetus came from the area and also to ensure local ownership of the project.

With regard to the need for shoreline berthage, the report stated that a third pontoon was highly desirable at Glengarriff and pointed out that Beara Tourism Board was seeking to redevelop the disused Furious Pier as a deepwater facility. There was also potential to service cruise ship tenders at Bantry Pier where a new pontoon is due to be constructed.

Proposing adoption of the report, Cllr Christopher O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail) said it had massive potential and believed Bantry Bay could have a symbiotic relationship with Cork and other ports that would be mutually beneficial. He urged the importance of investing in facilities and promotion of the product.

Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy (FF) said it was a blueprint to follow with huge potential. Infrastructure, such as shoreline docking due at Glengariff, was needed but it was well worth testing the water.

Cllr Jerry Sullivan (FG) said it was 'amother good news story for West Cork' and spoke of the immediate attraction to visitors of the Ring of Beara. However, for touring buses to get around the area would require a major input by the county council to upgrade roads etc.

Cllr Mary Hegarty (FG) welcomed the report, saying the music and good food of the Bantry area were already there for visitors to experience as part of shore excursion packages.

First articulated

Cllr Donal O'Rourke (FF) paid tribute to Cllr PG Murphy, who first articulated the cruise tourism idea, and also to divisional manager Ms Theresa White, who was retiring the next day.

Cllr Dermot Sheehan (FG) said that with 70% of cruise port visitors likely to return again for shore-based holidays, it was now more vital than ever to upgrade the N71, which was a vital artery of access to the peninsulas. He along with Cllr Hegarty said Bantry Bay would not be in competition with Cork Harbour cruise terminal, which had 50 liner visits last year, but would rather complement it.

Cllr Danny Crowley (FF) said he first put down a motion about such an initiative in 2007 and believed several of the recommendations in the report were achievable. He also acknowledged Mr Tony O'Sullivan of the Department of the Marine.

County manager Mr Martin Riordan said it was a very worthwhile document which came out of a steering group under the council's marine leisure strategy chaired by Ms White. The council would look at cost-effective steps to implement it since tourism was vital to overall economic development and always needed to be re-created in different ways in what was a very competitive sector. He complimented Mr Geary, Ms White and all who contributed to the report.

Deputy County Mayor Hurley (Independent) then formally launched the report, saying its implementation would be of benefit to the county as a whole.

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