The hire business, as we know and love it …

… is screwed.

That is my interpretation [and not, I should stress, to be attributed to the report’s authors, sponsors or supporters] of the results of the June 2014 report Ireland’s Inland Waterways – Review & Outlook  prepared by  Tourism & Transport Consult International for the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation “with support from the Irish Boat Rental Association (IBRA)” and downloadable here [PDF].

The report is well worth reading. I’ve been charting the decline in the cruiser hire industry, as indicated by Shannon lock passages, for some time now; a source within the industry told me recently that the decline was actually worse than those figures indicated. The report shows that the IBRA fleet size went from 388 in 1992 to a peak of 533 in 1997 but down to 225 in 2013.

The fleet refinancing problems look to be horrific and it doesn’t seem to me that more marketing (if marketing is taken to be Promotion rather than any of the other Ps) is going to be enough: another P, Product, needs to be redefined rather more usefully than in Tourism Ireland’s segmentation waffle about “Great Escapers” and the “Culturally Curious”. Tourism is good for waterways, but products other than (or as well as) straightforward cruising need to be offered.

And consider this:

Over the past 10 years upwards of €200 million in state expenditure has been invested in upgrading infrastructural facilities along the waterways. The investment has helped to transform the quality and quantity of moorings, navigational aids, signposting. Mooring capacity has been doubled over the period as well as the developments of several integrated harbors including berths with associated on-shore facilities including toilet and shower blocks, picnic and play areas, looped walks, etc. Such developments have taken place at locations on the Shannon and Grand Canal, including Boyle, Clondara, and Killaloe.

No wonder WI’s budget is being cut, if €200 million went to subsidising the Irish bourgeoisie rather than to bringing in more tourists. Of course if the Clones Sheugh were reconstructed tourists would come flocking from Germany, Austria and Switzerland: indeed from all around the world.

And the report says of the Lakelands and Inland Waterways Initiative, about which I have expressed scepticism,

The relevance of the well intentioned initiative and proposed branding to the cruising business was diluted by the large area encompassed by the new regional initiative and the less than adequate resources invested in effective marketing in key source markets. Unfortunately the results of the marketing effort do not appear to have raised the profile of Shannon and linked waterways.

I did think it odd that Abbeyleix got funding ….

This report is a very welcome dose of realism. I want to give it more thought before commenting on individual points, so I’ll come back to it again, but in the meantime I urge everyone to read it (it’s pretty short).

h/t Antoin Daltún



7 responses to “The hire business, as we know and love it …

  1. I don’t see any great harm in investing €20m a year in improving the navigation on Ireland’s inland waterways. Seems to me to be a better spend than much that passes the exchequuer’s, or both exchequers’ noses.

  2. Pingback: Inland waterways hire business | Canals of Dublin – Tourism Information for the Inland Waterways of Ireland

  3. Any allocation of resources, considered individually, may or may not be a good thing: may or may not produce a positive return on the investment (however you like to measure that return). But there are competing possibilities for that allocation and the question is whether any alternative allocation might have produced a higher return (again, whether you measure that in financial or in any other terms). For instance, the money might have been spent on improving pre-school education in deprived areas, providing tax breaks for lawyers and accountants, paying home helps or providing swimming pools: those or other options might have been better uses of public money.

    Of course politicians don’t do zero-based budgeting and they like handing out goodies to potential supporters (and getting their photos in the Irish Times, wearing suits and lifejackets), although they prefer to pretend that there is some significant economic or social benefit: that it’s not just another subsidy for those wealthy enough to own boats.

    The problem here, though, is that lavish investment on the waterways has been accompanied by a decline in the main waterways-related tourism industry. Correlation, you will rightly point out, does not prove cause and effect, but that decline makes it difficult to argue that state investment in the waterways produces a worthwhile economic return. That might not have mattered very much when FF were throwing money around like snuff at a wake, but it matters now. Waterways Ireland’s position is dire, but I suppose that inland boat-owners won’t be bothered until they have to start paying.


  4. All I can say is, whatever they’re spending, it didn’t appear to have been lavished on the stretch of Royal Canal that I hired on a few months ago – facilities at Kilcock ‘harbour’ consisted of (I think) 3 bollards (not even a rubbish bin or a water tap); Maynooth harbour does have a water point, but also had big lumps of concrete and silt blocking the access to it; further past Kilcock I had to phone Irish Waterways up to let them know they had a large tree blocking the entire canal (which had clearly been there a good few days already).
    Such luxury facilities do little to attract a return of custom.

  5. Thanks Brian. I have added my own analysis of the report on my own site:

  6. Would it be instructive to now have a look at the number of boats or tourists using the waterways to see if there was a pay off for the investment?

  7. It would, but I’m not going to do it: I am concentrating at present on the Shannon in the period 1816 to 1860 and devoting very little time to current affairs. The hire business has recovered and the number of hire boats has, I believe, increased again, but I have not studied the matter properly. bjg

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