Waterford city itself, along with Belview and Dunmore East will welcome 20 cruise ships between April and September, with double that number expected to sail our way come Summer 2011.
Upbeat Port of Waterford officials, in regular contact with both the City Council and Chamber of Commerce, believe the Waterford Crystal revival on The Mall is already creating the desired effect.
“This is fantastic news for Waterford,” said Waterford Chamber Chief Executive Michael Garland.
“Combining the estimated flow of tourists into the city from the cruise ship visits along with those who will visit the new Waterford Crystal Visitor Centre; there could be as many as 100,000 tourists in the city centre over the next few months.”
The 2011 season is already taking an even more positive shape, with an estimated 400,000 people set to be drawn into the city thanks to the Tall Ships Race.
“Given that the Crystal Centre will be well bedded-in come the summer after next, it’s reasonable to assume that it will attract well over 100,000 visitors again, maybe as many as 150,000,” said Mr Garland.
“Combine that with the anticipated visitor numbers for the Tall Ships Race and we’re going to have a buzzing city centre who will hopefully spread the word about Waterford when they return home. It’s a tremendously exciting prospect.”
The ships scheduled to berth range from the 72-metre Ocean Nova, set to lower anchor off Dunmore East on April 22nd, to the 285-metre Westerdam, due to arrive at Dunmore on August 5th.
Interestingly, the Westerdam’s atrium features a rotating Waterford Crystal sculpture (from the Holland America Line), with its many residents set to sample more of the real thing upon their visit to the city.
With the new ‘Destination Waterford’ initiative thundering along (its 20 strong group has been broken in three subcommittees), Michael Garland said the proactive drum was beating strongly across the city.
“There’s a great momentum developing in Waterford,” he said. “Since January 4th alone, Waterford Chamber has welcomed 11 new members.
“We’re hosting business networking events every two weeks throughout the summer, and no less than 240 separate Skillnets training events will be held in Waterford between now and the year’s end.”
The further development of the city’s Viking heritage will be underlined by the city’s hosting of an International Viking Conference from March 26th to 28th, coinciding with the Green Party’s Conference at the Tower Hotel.
Following last week’s successful visit to the city by Austrian Ambassador to Ireland Walter Hagg, his Danish counterpart Oyvind Nordsletten will travel to the city to address the conference.
The conference, which is being organised by Waterford Museum of Treasures, coincides with its opening of a permanent exhibition devoted to the Viking finds discovered at Woodstown.
Other ambitious projects set to highlight the city’s Viking culture are currently in the pipeline and are set to further enhance Waterford’s tourist appeal.
“We’ve always been great in Waterford for knowing our neighbours, and that equally applies in business,” said Mr Garland.
“But nowadays, you need to know what your neighbouring business does and you need to explore ways that you can help and promote each other – and that’s what many are investing in right now.
“We’re a matter of months away from becoming the only city equidistant to both Dublin and Cork; we’ve got an enhanced rail service, a top class port and a regional airport which is faring very well despite the difficult economic conditions.
“The Crystal centre is going to be a magnet for tourists, and thanks to the development of the Viking Quarter, we now have the means to bring visitors in the city centre in a really meaningful way.
“And with domestic tourism also set to increase, Waterford is in a prime position to tap into the home market in a completely new way. And for me, the best feature of all this is that it’s people here in Waterford, not looking externally for help, that are making these positive developments come about.”
A silver lining, as welcome as the ships soon to sail over the horizon and into Waterford, is tantalisingly within local sight.