An Cailín Rua
It’s been a taxing time for the Mayo tourism and hospitality businesses, and this week marks a watershed week as they reopen their doors and come to terms with a new way of doing business. But you’d never write Mayo off, and since returning here five years ago (time flies when you’re having fun), something that never fails to impress me is the positivity and resilience of those carving out a living on the West Coast.
The ‘extreme centralisation’ (a phrase coined by Diarmaid Ferriter in Ballina earlier this year) of Ireland has not worked in our favour. The deficiencies of infrastructure, enterprise development and resources are reflected every single day in the experiences of the tourism businesses I work with across, but not confined to North Mayo. Perseverance – or stubbornness – is our biggest strength.
Another thing that never ceases to amaze me is how much our largest indigenous industry is taken for granted. According to the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation, tourism employs 265,000 people, with 68 percent of these jobs outside Dublin. The industry can claim significant credit for keeping rural Ireland alive after the last recession – with little thanks for its efforts – and now as it faces an unprecedented challenge, the SMEs that make up the sector find themselves fighting once again for survival.
Fáilte Ireland, which has done immense work in recent weeks to support businesses in reopening, along with groups like the Restaurants’ Association of Ireland, has just launched a new domestic marketing campaign, urging people to ‘Make a break for it in Ireland’. This will be followed by a series of county campaigns, including ‘Make a break for Mayo’. In partnership with Mayo County Council, they have also convened a Mayo Destination Recovery Task Force.
Both of these are wonderful opportunities in development and promotion to rebuild a stronger and more resilient tourism offering across the county; and also for the first time give a solid framework for representatives from all around the county, including the islands, to work constructively together and feed into a national recovery plan for the industry.
I have no doubt that some people reading this will have already grumbled about the cost of staying in Ireland for holidays, and unfortunately, that is simply the reality of this country where overheads are high, where a massive chunk of projected income for the year ahead has gone up in smoke (think of how many hotels in Mayo rely on pre-booked coach tours from abroad) and where measures to safeguard against Covid cost money.
Add to this the reinstatement of the 13.5 percent VAT rate and the cost of insurance, and you can see why holidaying in Ireland might be more expensive than a week in Portugal.
But tourism in Ireland is deeply rooted in community, and every euro we spend on a staycation in our towns and villages makes a meaningful difference, so in the absence of the higher rate of spending that comes with overseas visitors, it is vital we support our own industry this year.
However, businesses must also help themselves and stop operating in self-serving silos. It is time to stop acting like we are in competition with each other in Mayo, and start supporting each other across the county.
It is up to all tourism businesses in Mayo to step up to the plate and be proactive. Make use of the huge range of supports that Fáilte Ireland provides, at little or no cost. Be aware of what is going on at a national level and make your voice heard. Take the time to list your business online, and give your website and social media some love.
Engage with your local destination tourism group and support them; financially and otherwise. Start communicating with each other and promoting each other’s businesses; we only have to look to Westport to see what a collaborative model can do for a region. Yes, it requires an extra effort and a generosity of spirit, but the days of minding our own houses are long over. In a county like Mayo, resisting collaboration will simply mean you get left behind.
We have a golden opportunity now to capture a place in the hearts of the nation. Let us embrace the resilience and determination we epitomise, and working together, offer visitors to Mayo a welcome they’ll never forget.
An Cailín Rua