A FAMILIAR SUMMER SIGHT Staycation campervans lined up at the Quay in Westport in the shadow of a sun-baked Croagh Patrick. Thousands more vistors are expected in Mayo during July and August. Pic: Paul Mealey
The increase of outdoor living has put a major focus on issues regarding the summer season of visitors
THE west is awake again and singing with the thrum and hum of tailbacks of visitors’ cars in gridlock along the final approach to Westport. There are big shiny jeeps laden down with bicycles and roof-boxes doing U-turns and hair-raising manoeuvres on the Quay Hill whilst pressurised staff in cafes and pubs, shops and takeaways receive the seasonal baptism of fire: hungry families, crying children.
We know. Locals aren’t meant to complain about the influx of visitors we are (mostly) happily experiencing after pandemic isolation. Neither are cranky journalists.
But we all know it can be a pain when you are in a hurry to get a pint of milk or a bottle of chilled Prosecco and there is no parking anywhere. Or when you go to dispose of your rubbish in a responsible way and the bin is full. Indeed, in the case of Achill Island over the June Bank Holiday weekend, such essential bins were allegedly missing because there was a delay in the delivery of local authority orders due to Brexit.
To be fair to the council, they have responded well in the interim and their campaign to ‘Keep Mayo Wild and Beautiful’ must be welcomed and supported. However, this is a key question: Is our local authority funded and staffed enough to deal with the influx of visitors to our county?
As commentator, Sophie Haigney recently asked in the New Republic, ‘Are We Ready for the Return of Mass Tourism?’ Analysing a new book which explores ‘the impact tourism has had on our politics, our planet and ourselves’, she notes that the ‘Age of Tourism’ is the defining industry of the 21st century.
Well, it was already an $8.8 trillion business in 2018 and 10.4 percent of global gross domestic product. Ireland, and Co Mayo’s percentage of that may be a drop in the ocean but we all know it is a most important one.
The big buses of American tourists may have stopped for the moment and have been replaced by Irish people who normally took Aer Lingus or Ryanair flights to sun destinations, but the issues of the environmental impacts of mass tourism remain largely the same.
Here we spoke to four people with strong opinions about the priorities that must be urgently addressed. After all, we all want tourism to be a sustainable industry that crosses the seasons, and embraces our unique natural and built heritage and culture without destroying it.
THE same issues that have been playing out in Dublin over the past few months also exist here in Achill. Insufficient planning for numbers of people has caused lots of problems; most notably fires being set, human waste, and rubbish. I love camping and I love to see camping and the majority of people who come and camp do so very respectfully. I would hate for it to get to a stage where you couldn’t pitch a tent or set up camp in a beautiful area. That being said there seems to be quite a festival approach to camping apparent with many people leaving a whole load of rubbish, smashed glass, and sometimes the tent behind them. I struggle to understand the apparent resistance from the council to staff the beaches. The solution is very clear and is seen all over the world. Employ people to make sure that fires aren’t set and rubbish isn’t left everywhere. It would bring extra employment to the area and would mean that we wouldn’t have to depend on volunteers to keep the beaches clean. The neglect of Keem beach is most egregious in my opinion as its photo is on every single Wild Atlantic Way piece of literature, yet there seems to be no consideration taken as to how all of those thousands of tourists convinced to visit will affect the place. I’ve heard it said that the council cannot afford to employ people to mind the beaches but I saw a street sweeper today in Keel sweeping the roads, and considering that the vast majority of rubbish is down on the beaches I think a small bit of refocusing of funding would have a massive positive impact.
Environmental activist and Clare Islander
ALTHOUGH tourism is a vital part of the Clew Bay economy, the fact that our infrastructure is already in many ways not fit-for-purpose means that the coming wave of tourists this summer is likely to negatively impact the lives of locals. Here on Clare Island, for example, the lack of a reliable public transport connection from Westport to Roonagh Pier means that everyone coming to the island will drive out to the harbour and leave their car there. Because of this, there is no space for islanders to park their cars in the carpark, with cars being parked for hundreds of metres along the Louisburgh road.
Similarly, last year the Achill public water scheme collapsed under the pressure from visitors to the island. This isn’t directly the fault of mass tourism. Rather, it is indicative of the fragile state of our Mayo infrastructure and the need for more resilient systems. This is an instance where our politicians would do well to put their money where their mouths are. Finally, although most of us enjoy the yearly tourist onslaught and find most to be courteous and well-mannered, there is a small minority of people who act like they own the place. It is important that tourists remember that they are visitors and that locals are their hosts.
Westport Fine Gael county councillor
THE most critical thing the county council needs to address are such basics as the bins being emptied, the streets being cleaned, that there are enough public toilet facilities. My concern is that if all the staycationers don’t have good experiences during this time when they don’t have an option to travel abroad, they won’t come back.
The first priority of the council is absolutely to have the resources to ensure they have a management team which will implement these services. The problem is that the municipal districts, which oversee such services, are very under-resourced. They are only allocated a limited budget and, indeed, have to go cap-in-hand to management if they need further funding. I hope that with the recent appointment of our new chief executive, he will see the value of ensuring the various districts have enough funding.
I was in Dublin and Galway recently and I was shocked to see how many city centre buildings are closed or boarded up. It is so important to get people back into our town centres and ensure they have soul and vibrancy.
I also happened to be in Kilkenny city where there is only one line of traffic on its main street. Westport has four lanes of traffic still, whilst a few businesses having taken up the grants to use car-parking spaces for outdoor hospitality.
What’s happening in the town is haphazard. It hasn’t helped that the county council wasn’t over-enthusiastic about this. It was easier just to leave it as it was.
But we really do need to come up with pedestrianising Bridge Street on some level. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is fully pedestrianised.
There was a lot of resistance to the widening of the footpaths at the Quay and look at how popular and successful it has been. On another note, it is up to everyone to be ambassadors for their towns, villages and county. There are many undiscovered little gems in Co Mayo to visit. In other words there doesn’t have to be traffic jams at Keem Beach or queues of people waiting to climb Croagh Patrick.
Leave no Trace Ireland
LEAVE No Trace Ireland welcomes the focus on staycations and outdoor activity and recreation as an opportunity to highlight issues around the ethical and responsible use of the outdoors. The organisation passionately believes that despite the pressure that staycationing can put on holiday destinations, the environment and countryside, it is possible for this trend to co-exist when people exercise responsibility and respect for the environment, landowners and fellow holiday makers who want to enjoy the outdoors.
It is important for those staycationing to plan ahead so that they understand and abide by any specific rules and guidelines that apply to the areas they are visiting. These may refer to specific issues concerning parking, dog access (in some cases forbidden), land or historic site access issues, and camping and use of campfires.
The 2021 ‘Love This Place, Leave No Trace’ campaign asks the public to play their part by acting responsibly so that everyone can experience and enjoy outdoor spaces while helping to protect them from increased pressures this year. The campaign focuses on three key issues regarding the increased use of the outdoors: plan ahead to avoid littering; always pick up after your dog; no fires, unless on a designated site or you have permission from the landowner.