Travel agents predict 10,000 will make trip to finals
THE clock has already started ticking on the countdown to Euro 2012.
Within hours of Ireland's away win over Estonia last Friday -- and with qualification all but a formality -- travel agents were already fielding calls from fans about travelling to eastern Europe next summer.
Those inquiries reached fever pitch yesterday as fans continued their celebrations after Tuesday night's formality at Lansdowne Road.
Travel agents specialising in sports packages are predicting up to 10,000 soccer fans will travel to the finals in Poland and the Ukraine.
They are now waiting for the pool draw on December 2, which will decide whether Ireland will play in Poland or Ukraine, before finalising the packages.
"It's been crazy," said Kevin Williams of Abbey Travel, who said he began receiving inquiries last Friday night.
"We have had hundreds of inquiries and we have started a database of people who are interested in travelling.
"There's only so much we can do before the draw is made but we have been scouting possible hotels, transport companies, coaches and charter flights."
He said the last time Ireland made it into the European finals in 1988, huge numbers still travelled regardless of the fact that the country was mired in recession. And, 23 years later, not much has changed.
"People will beg, borrow and steal to make it to Euro 2012. Maybe up to 10,000 will be travelling," he said.
Abbey Travel has started a savings scheme that allows fans to put aside money each week to pay for the trip. It comes with no obligation so that when the packages are finalised before Christmas, if a person does not want to buy one, they get a full refund.
Padraig Roche of Marathon Sports Travel said they were ready to go and were just waiting for the pool draw.
"We have had a lot of calls this morning but we're stuck for two weeks until the draw. All our buttons are ready to press for operators, flights and hotels, and hopefully I'll be first on the plane," he joked. He said affordability would be key for fans.
Gerry McInerney, owner of McInerney Sports Travel, said his "gut feeling" was that supporters would not be travelling in huge numbers, although he hoped he would be proved wrong. He has seen a fall-off in fans travelling to Britain for the Premiership.
"It's all down to cost. I don't think they have the money. That's if the Premiership is anything to go by. I hope I'm wrong," he said.
Those who do make the trip will be in for two very different experiences, depending on whether they are in Poland or the Ukraine.
Travel agents pointed out that transport infrastructure and the quality of accommodation and coaches are superior in Poland. Also, the distances between venues are more manageable.