A view of Mullingar's Royal Canal Harbour taken during the Fleadh Cheoil

Plans to revitalise cruise tourism in Hidden Heartlands

Building on the recent interest shown by domestic visitors in hiring cruisers on the River Shannon, Fáilte Ireland has initiated a study to examine how the sector can be developed and grown within the Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands region over the next ten years.

The study will examine the sustainable development of the cruise hire sector in Ireland to 2032. The aim is to support the sector rejuvenate and develop the cruise hire fleet to provide visitors with a “diversified, environmentally friendly, world-class experience along the Shannon Navigation and Shannon-Erne Waterway.”

Fáilte Ireland research of domestic cruise hire passengers during the pandemic (2020) found that 51% were first timers and over 90% of them would ‘definitely’ do it again.

"Prior to Covid-19 only one in three visitors hiring cruisers on the Shannon were domestic, so there is a clear opportunity to grow this market,” that's accroding to Paddy Mathews, Head of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands at Fáilte Ireland.

“The cruise hire offering in Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands has always been positioned as a high-quality product and we want to ensure that we can grow its economic value to communities all along the Shannon while also ensuring it contributes to raising awareness of and protecting our natural environment”.

The study will provide recommendations on new cruise hire base locations and berthing along the Shannon Navigation and Shannon Erne Waterway to enable the sector grow over the next ten years.

The final report will also explore opportunities for further diversification of the sector, to include identifying new domestic and international market opportunities and approaches to drive revenue growth particularly during the off season. It will also explore options for operators to develop new product offerings, such as ecotourism and day boat hire.

Despite the success of the cruise hire product over the past 50 years, the growing age of the fleet is a concern for the future sustainable development of the sector.

While the size of the boats available for hire has increased over the years – now able to accommodate large groups on a single boat – the number of boats in the rental fleet has dropped from approximately 530 in the early 1980s to 224 in 2018.

There is, therefore, a need to address how the fleet can be renewed and modernised in order to revitalise and expand this unique Shannon experience.

In particular, the study will investigate the economic, technical, and environmental feasibility of the renewal, revitalisation and greening of the cruise hire fleet.

“The cruise hire product on the Shannon is considered a signature experience within Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands, however the reduction in fleet size and the increase in its age poses significant challenges for its continued success," Mr Mathews continued.

"We expect this study will provide an overview and roadmap for the future development of the cruise hire sector and identify solutions, through working with key stakeholders and industry, to support the sector to access sustainable options to encourage the growth and greening of their fleet and sector over next 10 years.”

This study delivers on an action contained in the Shannon Tourism Masterplan 2020-2030, which was published by Waterways Ireland with the support of Fáilte Ireland and the ten Local Authorities along the Shannon and is also being undertaken with the co-operation of the Irish Boat Rental Association (IBRA).

An invitation to tender seeking applicants to carry out the study was published by Fáilte Ireland on E-Tenders.gov.ie on Monday August 29. Applications will close 12 noon, 23 September 2022.

Find a link to the full invitation to tender here https://www.etenders.gov.ie/