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Ailing B&B industry plea

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Westport Tourism AGM in the Wyatt Hotel
ATTRACTING VISITORS Aidan Clarke, Alan Hill, CEO Town & Country Homes; Catherine O’Grady-Powers, Chairperson, WTO; Michael O’Donnell, Chairman of the Marketing Committee of WTO, and Pat Cawley attended the Westport Tourism AGM in the Wyatt Hotel. Pic: Frank Dolan

Ailing B&B industry plea

Michael Duffy

CALLS have been made this week for both the Government and Fáilte Ireland to come up with substantial support for the the ailing rural B&B industry.
The annual general meeting of Westport Tourism Organisation was told that the Government should provide substantial grant-aid to the B&B sector to allow for an upgrade of accommodation and facilities.
However, Cllr Frank Chambers, candidate in the forthcoming election, has laid the blame for the decline in the sector at the door of Fáilte Ireland, who he claims have done nothing to nurture and encourage the rural B&B sector over the last number of years.
“The smell of fried rashers or homemade black budding on a summer’s morning in rural Ireland is a thing of the past because our B&B sector is in danger of extinction. I am fuming with Fáilte Ireland; they have done nothing to nurture or encourage the rural B&B sector. People are taking down B&B signs everywhere I go and nobody is trying to help them. The number of rural B&Bs in Mayo has plummeted over the past two years and somebody must shout stop,” stated Cllr Chambers.
Mr Alan Hill, CEO of the Town & Country Homes Association, who was guest speaker at the AGM of the Westport Tourism Organisation, said nearly 40 per cent of his members were interested in making the necessary investment to become ‘themed B&Bs’.
He said it was the aim of the Town & Country Homes Association to create a network of over 500 homes that would specialise in a series of different themes, including walking, angling, food, genealogy and wellness. A pilot scheme of 35 B&Bs was already in progress and the timeframe to achieve the figure of 500 was 2013.
Mr Hill said 93 per cent of Town & Country Home members were in rural areas and they had played a most significant part in the development of Irish tourism down through the years. The town of Westport was a good example of this. Thirty per cent of all overseas visitors to Ireland had a B&B experience which they found very worthwhile.
He said that in the Ireland-West region there were 255 registered Town & Country members, second only to the Cork/Kerry region. The challenge for the sector now was to attract new entrants, improve profitability, increase standards and reposition the product with a view to marketing it aggressively.
However, Cllr Chambers is adamant that Fáilte Ireland is only promoting the Hotel Industry in the west while the B&B sector is struggling to survive on the ground. 
“I listened to Mr Hill at the meeting and it does seem to me that the B&B sector is doomed if a major package isn’t put in place.  When was the last time you saw an ad for a B&B in Ireland on TV or in a paper?  The B&B sector is crucial to rural Ireland and it is vital that support structures are put in place immediately to keep it viable. Last summer proved to be a very poor tourism season for the B&B sector in the west with tourists opting for well publicised and promoted hotel deals and promotions instead of family-run bed and breakfasts. 
“People are leaving in droves and nothing is happening. We must market the B&B sector as a niche product that offers a unique Irish family experience. The tourism industry, both locally and nationally, must invest in this sector,” concluded Cllr Chambers.