WEST Cork and particularly Bantry Bay, is making waves as a ‘must see’ destination for the cruise tourist with more and more operators offering stop offs along the Wild Atlantic Way.
The number of cruise operators choosing West Cork as a premiere destination is on the increase with 10 cruise ships, scheduled to drop anchor at Glengarriff and Bantry this summer season and another three smaller boats heading for Cape Clear, Bere Island and Schull.
The most recent arrival was this Thursday, when the luxury five star cruise liner Seabourne Quest arrived in Bantry with 475 passengers and almost 400 crew on board.
That’s an increase of over 50% from 2017. What has this new influx of visitors meant for the area and particularly Bantry Bay?
Eileen O’Shea of Bantry Development and Tourism said: ‘Cruise tourism is a growing market and we want to be part of this sector with excellent facilities now here in Bantry.’ She added: ‘Around 50% of the visitors stay locally in the town and village and the excursions include Bantry House and Gardens, Skibbereen Heritage Centre, Gougane Barra and the Beara Peninsula.This is welcome business for all of West Cork and research has shown that many of the visitors come back privately.’
Cork County Council and the Port of Cork Authority, are actively promoting West Cork and Bantry Bay as cruise destinations and are delighted with both the interest and the number of cruise line operators that are choosing to add a local stop or two to their schedule.
Mac Dara O’Hici of Cork County Council said: ‘This summer, 10 cruise ships will visit Bantry and Glengarriff, delivering in excess of 4,000 passengers directly into the region. Of particular note is that a number of these ships represent new markets for West Cork. European and UK cruise companies have been visiting the area for decades. Now American companies too are realising the appeal of coming into un-congested ports and destinations not suffering from “over-tourism” which is becoming such an issue in some of Europe’s larger cruise destinations.’
He continued: ‘An even more welcome development is the increasing interest amongst smaller, expedition companies to include the West Cork islands in their itineraries. These companies pride themselves in being able to access locations that other ships cannot and, unlike larger cruise companies, their emphasis is not on the ship and its onboard amenities but rather on the destination itself. And this is where West Cork excels.’
Along with the undoubted scenic beauty, Bantry has also undergone a major investment programme aimed at enhancing its harbour and berthing facilities.
Port of Cork Chief Executive Brendan Keating said: ‘In 2017 Bantry Bay Port Company officially opened the new €9.5 million inner harbour development.’
He added: ‘This facility will greatly enhance the marine tourism activity in the area and will also aid in accommodating future cruise calls. In 2017 Holland America Lines, MS Prinsendam made her maiden call to Bantry Bay Harbour on what was to be the first visit of a cruise liner to Bantry in almost 30 years. In 2018 the same cruise vessel made her return visit to Bantry, thus highlighting the enthusiasm by both cruise passengers and cruise lines for the area.’
The 2018 cruise season in Bantry Bay began back in April with the arrival of the first ship to Glengarriff and as the season ends in September with the last vessel dropping anchor at Bantry, 10 cruise ships will have sailed into the bay.
Former county mayor Declan Hurley said: ‘Through our promotional efforts, West Cork is becoming better known and is adding even further appeal to Cork as a cruise destination.
‘The county is unique in that it can offer a cruise company a city experience in Cobh and such a completely different one then as they sail west to Bantry, Glengarriff and the islands.’
All indications are pointing to West Cork getting busier as a cruise destination in the years to come.
Mac Dara O’Hici added: ‘Some 78% of cruise passengers surveyed at Irish ports indicated they would be “very” or “quite” likely to return to Ireland on a general holiday.
‘This rises to 85% amongst Germans and 81% amongst Americans. The future looks bright not just in the cruise sector but for return general tourists to the region too.’