Shannon cruise fleet set for green overhaul – The Irish Times


Efforts are under way to “green” the river Shannon’s rental fleet and return the industry to its glory days.

Fáilte Ireland is seeking consultants to examine how best to replenish the river’s aged and depleting cruise ships whose number has fallen by more than half since the early 1980s to about 224 vessels.

A tender document to be published on Monday will look at how new, environmentally sustainable boating might be nurtured along the waterway.

Such an approach, according to the document, would aim to “provide the consumer with a diversified, environmentally friendly and world-class experience along the Shannon Navigation and Shannon-Erne Waterway”.

“At its height it was about 530 boats during the Eighties. It was probably the heyday and there were more companies and more bases from which you could rent a boat,” said Paddy Mathews, head of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands tourism sector.

“It’s seen ups and downs but it’s kind of been in decline really for the past couple of decades.”

A new strategy, aimed at delivering on the Shannon tourism master plan, and in league with local authorities and existing rental companies, would seek to reverse that decline.

It will set its sights on scale and sustainability — upgrading Ireland’s relatively inefficient fleet which is old by European standards, with boats averaging in age from 14.5 to 22 years.

Domestic customers have returned in recent times due to Covid and a trend in staycations — previously the Shannon cruise sector had been supported by about 70 per cent foreign visitors. This turnaround has given renewed impetus to growing the domestic market.

“On top of that it’s about greening the fleet,” said Mr Mathews. “Looking at new propulsion systems, potentially new fuel sources, potentially looking at how the boats can be converted.

“We are not qualified to say which [option] is best and that’s why we want a consultant to come in and look at the technical feasibility, the environmental feasibility and the economic feasibility of greening the fleet and what would it take to transition.”

Fáilte Ireland hopes this might return the Shannon fleet to past glories, albeit in a slightly “greener” hue. The tourism sector, as others, has its eye on a more sustainable future.

According to Fáilte Ireland’s tender document, Ireland’s “entire tourism offering must become much more sustainable and aligned with environmental ambitions and goals” in keeping with the Government’s Climate Action Plan and the recent Sustainable Tourism Working Group report.

It is expected the cruise hire sector generally will have to implement a number of measures, including decarbonisation and improvements in waste management and energy efficiency.

Modern boats are larger, catering for multiple groups or families. The 32-week boat rental season on the Shannon and the Shannon Erne typically runs from mid-March to the end of October. In 2018, companies sold about 4,000 “rental weeks” to just more than 17,000 visitors, an indicator of the sector’s capacity.

However, as noted by the tender document, “the growing age of the fleet is a concern for the future sustainable development of the cruise hire sector in Ireland”.

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