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11% boost in Shannon Heritage visitor numbers

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Shannon Heritage has announced that an 11% increase in visitor numbers was recorded in 2014, offering further evidence of a resurgence in local tourism and indeed in the domestic economy.

Shannon Heritage employs more than 300 people during peak season and it operates seven daytime visitor attractions, including Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, Craggaunowen, Knappogue Castle and Walled Garden, Dunguaire Castle, the Brian Boru Heritage and Malahide Castle and Gardens. It also has another four evening attractions, with medieval banquets at Bunratty, Knappogue and Dunguaire Castle, as well as a traditional Irish night at Bunratty Folk Park.

Overall, they drew 637,000 visitors last year, with the day attractions up by more than 13%, while there are said to have been particular gains from Britain, America and Europe.

Indeed, last year was the company’s most successful in terms of visitor numbers since 2007. The single biggest success among the Shannon Heritage operations last year was at King John’s Castle in Limerick, where, in its first full operating season following a €6 million revamp, the 13th-century castle and interpretative exhibition doubled its numbers to 85,000.

The results came in a year when there was a 17% increase in passenger numbers at Shannon Airport.

Reflecting on the results, Shannon Heritage CEO, John Ruddle said the sector has improved significantly.

“The recession years were very difficult for all tourism operators but now the tourism picture is very positive. These results show a solid growth curve and, as we undertake our 2015 marketing programmes, we are confident that this year is shaping up to be another year of positive growth. We have already got off to a great start, winning two coveted CIE Tours International Awards of Excellence for two of our visitor attractions, King John’s Castle in Limerick and Malahide Castle and Gardens in Dublin last week,” he said.

Mr Ruddle said that added-value initiatives developed by Shannon Heritage for the Irish domestic market had helped boost numbers also.

“Our Irish visitors are hugely important to us and we really value the great customer loyalty they have shown over the years by returning to our sites year after year. It was with them in mind that, a number of years ago, we devised a calendar of 10 special events at key sites throughout the year, at no extra charge. For example, we have Easter events at our Bunratty and Craggaunowen sites in Clare.

“It’s critical that we are price competitive and, to that end, we have family rates at all our attractions but what’s essential is that our visitors go away not just happy about price but, moreover, about what they have experienced and the major increase in visitors numbers speaks for itself in that regard,” he continued.

Last week, two of the Shannon Group attractions, King John’s Castle and Malahide Castle and Gardens, were announced as winners of two gongs at the CIE Tour International Awards of Excellence.

Mr Ruddle said the awards were a very positive endorsement. “CIE Tours is one of Ireland’s largest inbound tour operators and these awards are based on customer feedback so it is the best possible validation we could get. The customer is always right and, if they are telling us our visitor attractions are this good, then we are on the right track,” he said.

Consultants have recently been appointed to review the company and, commenting on this, a Shannon Group spokesman said, “The strategic review underway will examine how we can maximise on the upswing in tourism and achieve further growth going forward, with what is a unique collection of tourist attractions popular with both domestic and international markets.

“This review will also look at how commercial synergies can be achieved with other elements of the newly formed Shannon Group, which operates Shannon Commercial Properties Ltd, and will ultimately create a roadmap that ensures its considerable potential is further developed,” the spokesman concluded.

Owen Ryan

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