City businesswoman and chairperson of the Galway City and County Enterprise Board Mary Bennett is urging people to get behind the city authorities to help fast-track the development of Galway docks.
Mary Bennett says the success of the Volvo Ocean Race stopover has highlighted the potential of the area, especially as a cruise ship destination. She is keen to see liners coming into the city and is calling on the public and “powers that be” to harness the goodwill and momentum created by the world’s biggest sailing event to make this a reality.
The owner of the Treasure Chest store was commenting following the announcement this week that this year’s Rehab Galway People of the Year special merit award will go to the organisers of the stopover, the “Lets Do it Galway” trio of John Kileen, Enda O Coineen and Eamon Conneeely.
Mrs Bennett, who was one of the adjudicators together with Dr Jack McCann and Liam O’Carroll, told this newspaper that the Volvo event taught people how successful working together to achieve a common goal can be.
“When John Killeen and Tom O’Neill of the Harbour office started talking about the Volvo Ocean Races two to three years ago it seemed like a wonderful idea but it was like pie in the sky. When they talked about 140,000 people coming to the city we found it hard to believe. We were doubting Thomases, not having been in the sailing or leisure business. Then to see what they did was unbelievable. The whole city was transformed. The city and county, business people, the Chamber, the Gardai, everybody worked together. Once you have a great leader, such as John Killeen - who is a nice, quiet man - you can achieve anything.
“The way it all came together and the reaction of the people when the boats arrived was electrifying. There were tears in many people’s eyes as the boats sailed away into the sunset. We got 640,000 visitors instead of the anticipated 140,000. The legacy it left means there is no going back, we’re on a roll and we’ve got to keep going. We must get cruise liners into the city, we must attract the leisure business associated with the sailing and boating industry. It is very lucrative and we would create so many jobs. The plans the harbour board have for the city must be supported in the same way as the Volvo Ocean Race was.”
Mrs Bennett describes the cruise ship industry as the “new tourism”. “This is something everybody will gain from. Look at Cork for instance, it always had some cruise ships coming. This year it had 54, a 10 per cent increase on last year and 20 per cent on the year before. Dublin had 80 to 90 while Belfast had one cruise ship nine years ago and 18 this year. You can go on a cruise for three days or a year.”
Cruise passengers spend eight to 10 hours in a city, using the facilities, availing of local tours and hospitality services, she says. While the Galway port is not deep enough to accommodate cruise ships currently plans are under way to develop this area.
“We don’t have a deep enough port yet but there are plans. If a cruise liner comes in now it has to stay out in the bay and people have to get into a tender to get into the city. That would have been OK in the past but in today’s world people want to step off close to the city.
“I feel everything is right now, we are on the go. We must support the powers that be to get the necessary finance [to develop the docks area]. We got a taste of what can happen with the Volvo stopover and we must pull together now. We could develop the docks in a pieceeal way, do what we can afford. I know the tourism authorities won’t be found wanting.”