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Sun shines on tourism upturn

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The Bangor Trail takes in breathtaking views of Ballycroy National Park.
MAGESTIC
?The Bangor Trail takes in breathtaking views of Ballycroy National Park.?Pic: Phelim Doran

Sun shines on tourism upturn


Lesson of the recession is real value for money

Feature
Áine Ryan

IF the 15,000 people who basked and bopped in the summer sunshine to the upbeat riffs rocking and rolling through the lawns of Westport House during the music festival is symbolic of an upturn in the tourism trade in County Mayo, then the signs are really positive. If all those colourful, craft-filled shops, artisan bakeries and bicycle businesses that have opened their shutters in the town centre and at Westport Quay are a sign that the economic collapse is over, it is time to take out the champagne – or maybe that should be the locally produced craft-beer?
One very positive and fundamental fall-out from the profligacy of the Celtic Tiger is a return to the creativity engendered by cottage industries. Whether that is through the brewing of beers, the baking of cakes, foraging for the natural fruits of the boreens and byways, the turning of wood and weaving of wool or leading off-track tours along the Greenway or coasteering on Clare Island, there is a whole new community of entrepreneurs out there who are helping to refloat a flailing exchequer.
Perhaps the domino impact of the collapse of global capitalism forced us to reflect on the real sustainable aspects of our culture and its implicit relationship with a fragile economy. Fortunately, County Mayo’s large percentage of family-run hotels and tourism providers left the majority of them surviving the crash, albeit with a much lower profit margin.
And the good news is that dividends are already being paid by such Government initiatives as The Gathering 2013 while the launch earlier this year of the Wild Atlantic Way is already showing signs that this cliff-top highway is bound to boost tourism in County Mayo and along the entire west coast.

Tourism upturn
LAST December, Minister of State for Tourism Michael Ring welcomed the fact that the overseas spend by tourists visiting Ireland during the first nine months of 2013 was up by 13.3 percent. Central Statistic Office (CSO) figures showed that revenue had risen to €26 billion, showing a strong increase in the average spend by tourists. Research showed that The Gathering proved to be a catalyst for this and helped to significantly grow the challenging British market.
Just last week Michael Ring welcomed the fact that newly released CSO figures for 2014 revealed a further increase in the numbers visiting Ireland, with an average of almost ten percent more tourists coming from abroad in the first five months of 2014.
“What is good for tourism, is good for Ireland,” Mr Ring said.
“Our main tourist season is now in full swing and the Government is supporting and promoting attractions, festivals and exciting events around the country. Whether it is a trip along the Wild Atlantic Way or attending the Achill Seafood Festival, the European Juggling Convention in Millstreet or an Air Show in Foynes, there is really something for all tastes,” he continued.
Fáilte Ireland’s, Brian Quinn told The Mayo News that while no Mayo-specific figures are available at the moment, ‘trade sentiment is hugely positive’.
“The brilliant sunshine has meant that places like Clare Island, Achill, Inishturk and ’Bofin have benefited but then if the weather gets too hot, shopping is down as everyone just goes to the beach. Tourism is up in Belmullet and the Erris area because of winning The Irish Times ‘Best Place to Go Wild’ and the Wild Atlantic Way is also contributing to an upsurge in numbers from at home and abroad,” Brian Quinn said.
He confirmed that holidaymakers had learned one invaluable lesson because of the financial constraints of the recession.
“People have become trained in how to get value-for-money and when the economy bounces back, I believe they will still want this. They have the option now also of checking the third-party sites, such as booking.com, which ensures they can identify the best value,” he continued.
For Westport hotelier, Darren Madden, an increase in room reservations is the real litmus test, and he confirmed that ‘tourism was strong in the town this year and is looking good for 2015’.
Madden said the hospitality industry has a three-tier model which he dubs ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’.
“Dublin hotels are at the top and doing really well. They have a general event-oriented policy which also benefits occupancy in hotels inside the M50. The second-tier is based on destination and cities like Cork and Galway are the big beneficiaries, while tourism towns like Westport are probably between the second and third tiers. Our occupancy at The Clew Bay is pretty good but our rates are tight. People are looking for good rates and good value,” Darren Madden said.
He confirmed that there were ‘a lot more American and international tourists’ visiting Westport.
American native and longtime Clare Island weaver, Beth Moran, of Ballytoughy Loom, recently opened the Quay Gallery, in Westport, with three other craftswomen based in Mayo.
Looking at the tourism trade first from an island perspective, she said ‘people were spending money more easily’.
“I think there is a lot of caution still and the average spend from ten years ago is down, as are prices, but visitors seem more upbeat. I have innovated by making my silk scarves smaller, for example, or using different materials such as cotton or wool, so that I can reduce my prices,” Beth Moran said.
She confirmed that business was ‘genuinely really good’, at the Quay Gallery, where she is enjoying selling to ‘a much bigger audience’ with a lot of clientele visiting from the adjacent apartments and the West Coast Hotel.
Westport Quay has recently undergone a major upgrade and enhancement which happened to coincide with the opening of a number of new tourism-oriented businesses.

Rustic idyll
OFF the beaten track at stately Enniscoe House, on the shores of Lough Conn, the concept of passing trade or footfall is clearly more elusive. Turns out the month of May was ‘very good’ for owner, Susan Kellett, who along with her son DJ runs the house and its grounds, which include looped woodland walks and a heritage centre and café.
“The brown trout season was the best there was in years on Lough Conn so we had a very good May. We have our own landing stage and a very good ghillie which adds to the experience for our visitors, many of whom return. Bookings then for June were a little disappointing with our weekends very busy but scattered midweek,” Susan Kellett told The Mayo News.
Business was looking up for August, in particular though, she said.
Ms Kellett said English visitors were ‘slightly up and there was a pattern of repeat business from the US’. Enniscoe House’s inclusion in Ireland’s Blue Book gives it exposure to an international clientele who opt for less mainstream holiday accommodation in preference for country house hotels, manor houses and designer lodges. As well as Enniscoe House, The Ice House in Ballina and Clare Island’s Lighthouse are on the prestigious book’s County Mayo list.