AS the enormous Celebrity Reflection cruise ship sails into Belfast this morning, bringing thousands of deep-pocketed North Americans to the city’s visitor attractions, shops, pubs and restaurants, there are fears it could be the ‘end of an era’ for this type of tourism.
For it comes as the Dublin Port Company sticks to its guns and restricts the number of cruise ships entering its port from 2021 as it increases freight capacity container vessels post-Brexit.
And when cruise ships can’t dock in Dublin, then Ireland as a whole could be wiped from tour itineraries – which will impact heavily on Belfast.
In what is known in the industry as a ‘turnaround’, the Celebrity Reflection dropped off 3,600 cruise tourists in Dublin yesterday while another 3,600 passengers flew into Dublin to begin their cruise, which has Belfast as its next stop today.
Dublin port sees freight (where volumes have swollen by 36 per cent in six years) as more lucrative than cruisers, and last month confirmed the number of tour vessels it will allow to berth will be slashed from 172 in 2019 to as few as 30 in just two years.
That has angered businesses in the tourism sector, who have formed a group called the All-Ireland Cruise Ship Action Group (AICSAG), which said the sector is worth €100 million a year.
Group spokesman Lorcan O’Connor said that the Celebrity Reflection’s stop-over represents is a huge windfall for Ireland’s economy, which will be wiped out by Dublin Port’s shock ban on cruise ships from 2021.
He said: “Its turnaround is bringing over 7,200 tourists from North America through Ireland. These high-spending tourists will be staying several nights in Dublin this week, spending money on hotels, restaurants and pubs.
“One major department store in Dublin described the impact on its store as being ‘better than Christmas Eve’, with some stores staying open to cater for travellers looking for quality Irish goods. Yet Dublin Port have explicitly said that they will be banning these turnarounds from 2021, and the Irish tourism industry will be paying the price.”
He added: “The Irish tourism industry has worked extremely hard for years to promote Dublin as a destination for turnarounds. We are just beginning to see the benefits of this work, but we believe the Dublin Port Company has chosen to deliberately wreck cruise tourism on this island for the sake of feathering its own nest. It is totally unacceptable.”
Mr O’Connor said the port’s decision was taken without consultation or engagement with the Republic’s Minister for Transport, businesses, Dublin City Council or the other Irish ports like Belfast, which will be severely impacted by this decision.
A spokesman for Belfast Harbour said: “Given that the proposed changes at Dublin Port are not planned to take effect until 2021, it’s too early to assess any potential impact upon cruise calls in other ports.
“The northern European cruise sector, however, which includes the UK and Ireland, remains very popular and Belfast has established an excellent reputation with a wide range of cruise operators.”
Dublin Port said the berth restrictions it is introducing in 2021 are intended to last three years to 2023 while it undertake major construction works on a 400 metre wall at Alexandra Quay West.