Dublin Port's slashing of its cruise ship business due to rising freight 'could be devastating for Northern Ireland tourism'
A decision by Dublin Port to reduce the number of cruise ships that dock there annually could have a "devastating impact" on tourism in Northern Ireland, a tour operator has said.
Excursions Ireland, which is one of the biggest tour service providers for ships coming to Ireland, said the move by Dublin Port and its chief executive, Eamonn O'Reilly to reduce slots for cruise ships was "terrifying".
Mr O'Reilly said that rising freight volumes and the need to create space due to Brexit meant that trade needed to be prioritised over tourism.
In a statement the chief outlined how the proposed reduction will work.
"Given the long marketing lead times in the cruise industry, bookings for cruise ships have previously been taken in Dublin Port up to two years in advance. Bookings have already been taken for 2019 and for 2020," he said.
"Due to the large growth in cargo volumes in Dublin Port (36% in the six years to 2018) and due to the impact of major construction works on berth availabilities, it is necessary now to manage future cruise bookings.
"Our primary business is freight and we are committed to our freight customers - that's our core business. Last year, 8,000 ships used the port. Just 150 were cruise ships. It's a small part of our business."
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As of 2021 the port will accommodate liners at three berths only. The new policy will also restrict cruise ship bookings and none will be taken for Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays or Mondays. It will also not take 'turnaround' (the disembarking of one set of passengers and the embarking of a new set of passengers) bookings from 2021.
The move could be a big blow to tourism and retail interests in the Republic and beyond, according to Excursions Ireland. It operates trips to Belfast, Portrush and Derry, as well as locations throughout the island.
Kim Hogan, the manager of the company, said: "This is extremely worrying news. On average cruise passengers spend circa £68 during their one-day visit. If you think about a large cruise ship with, for example 2,000 passengers on board, this is a huge source of revenue for Belfast and all ports across Ireland.
"This will have a catastrophic effect on Irish tourism due to the fact that if cruise ships cannot get into Dublin Port there is a huge chance that international cruise lines will pull the island of Ireland from their itineraries completely in the future.
"This will also have a devastating effect on suppliers such as tour guides, coach companies, chauffeur car companies, restaurants and the many tourist attractions that we bring cruise guests to visit in Belfast and across the island."
A spokesman for Belfast Harbour said: "Given that the proposed changes at Dublin Port are not planned to take effect until 2021 it is 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."
Earlier this year Cruise Belfast, the partnership between Belfast Harbour and Visit Belfast, said 285,000 visitors are due to arrive on 151 cruises to the city during 2019.
It compares with 185,000 during 2018.
In total, 35 separate liners will drop anchor in Belfast this year.