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City 'is missing out on millions' without ferry; 'Fall in value of pound is fresh opportunity to attract Irish visitors'.

Byline: Robin Turner

AS THOUSANDS of Irish rugby fans swarm to South Wales this weekend Swansea has been warned it is missing out on a cash bonanza because of the continued absence of a regular ferry to the Emerald Isle.

Geoff Haden, a consultant to Tourism Swansea Bay, said the weakness of the pound against the euro has led to consumers from Southern Ireland heading across the border to Ulster to make their purchases.

Mr Haden, the former chairman of Tourism Swansea Bay, said: "Tourism and retail businesses in Swansea have seen the effects of three years without the ferry link.

"But the fall in value of the pound is a brand new opportunity to attract visitors from Southern Ireland and safeguard jobs in the process.

"With the pound weak against the euro I would anticipate that perhaps50%of the 2,800 potential passengers a day from an Irish-Swansea ferry would be travelling from Ireland into Wales.

"You only have to look at places like the Northern Ireland border town of Newry which is inundated with people from the south taking advantage of the lower prices in the UK.

"Swansea's city centre could benefit in the same way as it did in the early days of the Swansea Cork ferry which brought hundreds of day visitors into the city.

"What is needed is to educate visitors to turn left out of the ferry port and discover the delights of Swansea and the Gower Peninsula rather than turn right for England and the Continent.

"This is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to market the region to the widest audience."

Mr Haden said the influx of Irish rugby fans this week had highlighted the trade which was being missed.

He said: "A large percentage of the thousands coming for the Six Nations match would come via Swansea if there was a ferry available.

"It all adds up and over a year the lack of ferry means Swansea could be missing out by millions."

The Swansea Cork Ferry service ceased operating in 2006 at a time when it was estimated to be worth pounds 70m to the combined economies of southern Wales and Ireland.

Since then politicians and business leaders on both sides of the Irish Sea have been working hard to bring it back.

The Cork and Kerry areas have been particularly badly hit as the Swansea-Cork route provided a convenient "bridge" to Ireland not only for the Welsh but also for potential tourists from London and the Midlands.

In the past few months the Bring Back the Swansea Cork Ferry Campaign led by businessmen from Southern Ireland has received pledges approaching EUR250m from those backing the return of the ferry route.

And talks have been held this week between campaign representatives and the Russian owners of the MV Julia, a vessel capable of carrying 1,800 passengers and 500 cars.

The ship has previously worked the Helsinki-St Petersburg route but has been idle since last October.

Mr Haden, who runs a tourism business on Gower, said: "I know that both Swansea Council leader Chris Holley and Welsh Assembly Government Finance Minister Andrew Davies are looking into the matter but it needs an urgent announcement and the creation of a public/private sector organisation dedicated to maximising the potential of a new ferry and giving a jobs boost to the area."


CALL: Geoff Haden; MARKET: The ferry could be popular with Irish rugby fans; IRISH LINK: TheCork ferry at Swansea in 2006. It ceased operating that year PICTURE: Dimitris Legakis
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 21, 2009
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