1 June 2017

Emerald Star in fleet upgrade programme

Katrina McGirr of Waterways Ireland with Mark Roding of Emerald Star.
A €1.6m investment in Emerald Star will see a substantial upgrading of its Shannon-based fleet over the next few years, writes Brian Byrne.

Announced last night by the company's regional operations manager Mark Roding, the new 'Horizon' class cruisers will offer an enhanced boating experience for the company's customers, in 2+2, 5- and 8-berth configurations.

Three of the new cruisers, which are being built in Poland to the company's specification, have already been delivered to Ireland. At a cost of up to €250,000 each, they include such features as top deck barbecue areas that are covered against the sun ... or rain.

A Horizon class cruiser.
Emerald Star is the iconic company among a number of providers to the growing Shannon cruise market. It was established in the 1970s by Guinness, and is now owned by European giant Le Boat.

It currently has 50 boats based in Carrick-on-Shannon, and a further 20 at its Portumna hub.

Half of Emerald Star customers are Irish, with Germany and the UK coming as next most important. At last night's presentation, it was noted that the company gets many repeat customers, some of whom have been coming for 30 years.

The demographic runs from people in their 20s through to their 70s, 'and we had one customer last week who was in the 90s'. "Traditionally, the customers did tend to be older, because they were customers who had more time. But with the growing interest in short breaks by busy people who are 'time-poor', we're seeing much younger customers. What tends to happen is they'll try it for a few days, and usually come back for a longer holiday."

New Horizon boats have modern, airy saloons.
Mark Roding emphasised that while boating is an 'activity' holiday, the level of activity is completely dictated by the customers themselves, so it suits a broad range of people and interests.

To rent and drive a boat in Ireland you have to be 21 or over, but no special licence is required.

Detailing the course of business over the last decade, Mark Roding said it was hit hard by the recession, but the parent company adapted by taking boats from Ireland to use on its mainland European hubs, which trimmed the costs here during the downturn.

"That meant, though, that when the economy improved, we were short on capacity, so that's the reason we are investing in new boats." The investment and building programme was initiated in 2014, and the design of the new vessels was the result of in-depth discussions with the company's existing customer base.

"The clear answer was that customers wanted new boats, whether they were people who have been coming for years, or brand new customers. They want all mod cons, and the only way to do that is provide new boats, rather than modifying the existing stock."

He complimented the cross-border Waterways Ireland agency for proving some 'amazing' cruising facilities on the Shannon and on the Erne. He also noted that mooring facilities were free along the Shannon, except for those in Athlone which are owned by the local authority.

Waterways Ireland’s Katrina McGirr said the overall river cruising market in Ireland is growing alongside the upsurge of inward tourism generally here. She added that as well as the investments by Emerald Star, other providers have also made investment plans to pick up on the market growth.

Emerald Star prices range from €600 for a 7-night booking to €3,655, depending on boat size and time in the season. There are also prices available for shorter bookings.

An Emerald Star cruiser.

Activity holiday for all ages and interests.