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A sunny start of tourist season

A COMBINATION of good weather, the Wild Atlantic Way and a public holiday saw huge numbers of people flock to the Clare coast at the weekend.

Tourism providers across the county are reporting one of the busiest Easter weekends in recent years.

One prominent hotelier said it was “more like August than April”, which meant that seasonal staff could be hired over a month earlier than usual.

Attractions across the county also recorded high visitor numbers, with the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre, Bunratty Folk Park and Craggaunowen all recording increases this year compared to last.

“It was a super weekend,” John Burke from the Armada Hotel in Spanish Point and Hotel Doolin stated.

“We had a surge in customer numbers. People just want to flock to the coast to cool down and it was great to see it pick up so early in the season. It has allowed us to recruit earlier in the year. Normally, seasonal staff wouldn’t come on board until mid-May but we have nearly a full complement here at the moment, which is more than a month earlier than usual, so that is very positive,” he added.

Mr Burke said another change this year is that activity-based tourism has increased.
“We would notice that people are getting more active every year. We are seeing casual surfers, people travelling by bike or driving up here and going on long walks on the beach or the cliffs or whatever. We are seeing much greater numbers of active people,” he added.

According to Mr Burke, Irish people still make up the greatest number of visitors to Spanish Point, while Doolin is attracting more international tourists.

“In Doolin, we have had a much earlier start to the season this year. Some of the numbers at the weekend would be more like August figures than April. It seems the appeal of the Cliffs of Moher as an attraction to bring people to Doolin is growing more and more. It is great to get the season starting earlier. We are in high-season mode now. We have accelerated everything in terms of our investment and recruitment for the year. The early start is certainly a good thing for the local economy,” he stated.

Patrick Sexton of Gus O’Connor’s Pub in Doolin believes the weather was a key factor in bringing people out.

“Definitely compared to last year, numbers were way up. We expect a very good season. The forecast is looking good. Anytime we get the weather it makes a big difference, especially for Irish tourists,” he said.

Eugene Garrihy of Doolin2Aran Ferries described the weekend as one of the best in recent memory.

“Last weekend was one of the strongest Easters we have experienced. A lot of things came together. There has been a general growth in tourism but that is predictable from the forward bookings. On top of that, we had a few fine days and, of course, the publicity from Doolin being the only village in Ireland to make it into the Top 10 destinations to visit on TripAdvisor, on top of the Wild Atlantic Way and a newly re-energised Doolin Tourism,” he commented.

Nearby, Lisdoonvarna “was thronged”, according to Paddy Dunne of Lisdoonvarna Fáilte.

“There was music in all the pubs and there were loads of people around. It would ordinarily be busy but the weather was great and that helped, I think. There were still people around on Wednesday,” Mr Dunne continued.

In Ennis, the long weekend extended through the week too.“We were delighted to notice that the INTO conference in Ennis this week meant that the weekend extended right through to the Wednesday,” Mary Gleeson of The Old Ground Hotel explained. She expects a strong season ahead, especially from international tourists.

“We are looking forward to an excellent season ahead, especially from the United States because the dollar is so strong against the euro. Some people are saying it was never as strong,” she added.

The strong dollar is having an influence elsewhere too. Kevin Clancy of Crotty’s Pub, Restaurant and B&B in Kilrush said, “Bookings in the B&B are well up for this year. It would be because of the strong dollar, the strong pound, two good summers in-a-row, word of mouth and the Wild Atlantic Way is certainly making a difference to the West of Ireland.”

He described the Easter weekend as “very, very good”.

“We have been busy since Paddy’s weekend. We have had Americans around from about four or five days before St Patrick’s Day but Easter would be the start of our season. It was definitely busier than last year. The weather was one reason and the Wild Atlantic Way. We are feeling the impact of the Wild Atlantic Way already. People tell us that is why they are here. About 10-15% of our customers would be Irish but, just now, I was speaking to two Italians, who are spending two weeks cycling the Wild Atlantic Way,” Mr Clancy added.

In Doonbeg, Tommy Tubridy of Tubridy’s Bar, Restaurant and Caravan Park described the weekend as one of the busiest in years.

“It was very busy in both the bar and restaurant but especially the food. We had mainly Irish people but there were a lot of overseas visitors from the golf club in Doonbeg. The caravan park was very busy as well. People were out in the sun enjoying themselves and the Wild Atlantic Way. We find it very good. We are seeing a lot of people passing through for a drink or some food and while we will be busy from now on, we are especially looking forward to the Doonbeg Jazz Festival on the Whit Weekend.”

As well as hitting the beach, people flocked outdoors to enjoy the sunshine.

Coole Park in Gort was very busy, according to Hilda MacLochlainn of the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

“Saturday was busy but on Sunday and Monday, with the good weather, there were a lot of people around. The visitor centre was opened for the season on Saturday, so we are open every day now until the end of September. We had families coming to enjoy the grounds and have a picnic. Others came to the tea rooms and then there were Irish people on weekend breaks and tourists from the United States, England and other places too. I would say it was busier this Easter compared to last year and that was a bonus, because Easter is earlier this year and the weather was great,” she said.

Katherine Webster of the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre said she expects the attraction to exceed the million visitors it had last year.

“The weather certainly contributed to that. I expect we are up on last year but we do our analysis on the full two-week holiday period. Because Easter moves around so much, it is difficult to compare year-on-year but we expect that the figures will be up compared to 2014. Our projections are that we will hit the same visitor numbers as last year and possibly exceed them. It is difficult to predict this early but the year has started strongly,” she stated.

A spokesperson for Shannon Heritage said Craggaunowen and Bunratty Castle and Folk Park had large increases in the numbers attending their special Easter events, compared to last year.

At Craggaunowen, visitor numbers on Easter Sunday were up by 40% on the 2014 figures and at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, numbers attending their Easter Monday event were up by 25% on last year.

“Overall, Shannon Heritage recorded an 11% increase in visitor numbers in 2014 across all its sites. There were 637,000 visitors in total last year to the seven day attractions and four evening attractions. That made it the best tourism year since 2007. Some of that is due to visitor numbers from Shannon Airport and that is supported by day visits to the attractions up 13%, particularly from the UK, US and European markets.

Customer loyalty is a factor but the fine weather definitely had an impact last weekend in bringing people out,” the spokesperson stated.

Bu Nicola Corless

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