BUSES may be departing South Galway quick and fast this week with just one destination in sight but as race goers bolt for Ballybrit, businesses in Gort are also seeing their fair share of action.
While this year has been challenging for businesses in the South Galway town, eateries, hotels and bookies in Gort are racing away on the knock-on trade the week brings.
General manager of The Lady Gregory Michael O’Grady told The Clare Champion the spin-off to his business from the races this year has been as good as in previous years, if not better, while the races have also paid off for him personally.
Mr O’Grady and two other South Galway men, John Fordham and Bernard Gillane, make up the Kill Be Canty Syndicate and their horse, Tribes and Banner, took third place in the HotelMeyrick.ie and theghotel.ie Handicap Hurdle. The second race on the card at Ballybrit on Monday, the odds were around 16/1 for the Charlie Swan-trained horse.
Speaking about how The Lady Gregory is clearing the hurdles at a time when money is tight and there is a lack of foot fall, Mr O’Grady said business has been up.
“Our numbers are as big as in previous years. We have the same number of people booked in as in previous years and we are full for race week. Our food trade is also going well; so far, so good. What we’ve found is the year has been up in terms of tours and business. I don’t know why this is, but it seems the tours are filling up better.
“People who stay with us would be touring Galway, mainly Connemara and Clare to the Cliffs of Moher and we will usually have them for two nights depending,” Mr O’Grady outlined.
He said the majority of the tourists passing through Gort on these tours are European, made up mostly of German and Belgian visitors.
In addition to race week, the hotel has been benefitting from the number of other festivals taking place each summer in Galway and Clare. He said being in Gort, which is that bit removed from Galway City but still a convenient bus or car journey away, the Lady Gregory is attracting more family visitors in light of steeper accommodation prices in the city centre.
“We are getting a good lot out of Galway with all the festivals there and our prices in comparison to Galway are competitive. We would get a lot of family business as people can still drive into Galway and see what’s going on, for instance during the Volvo Ocean Race, without having to pay €250 a room,” he said.
Over the last few days, Mr O’Grady said the hype around the Galway Races has been rife and is always most evident in the breakfast room as people sift through newspapers for tips and ask staff for advice on which horses to back.
While visitors may be on the ground this week, many still believe those passing through the town are waiting on a big win before they splash their cash.
Councillor Gerry Finnerty, who is the PRO for Gort Chamber of Commerce, spoke to The Clare Champion while en route to the races.
“I think definitely overall spend is down. It’s probably just down to people not spending,” he said.
In spite of this, he said Gort is a hive of activity this week as buses run from the town to the racecourse each day at various times.
He said this offers a unique opportunity for local businesses as race goers avail of the various eateries before they head to Ballybrit and when the races are over, they are returning for evening entertainment.
“It’s quite busy here at the moment with stop-offs for food and entertainment. For the year so far it has been a very difficult year and a very bad year weather-wise and the races have been a boost to it,” Councillor Finnerty said.
Sean Mullins of O’Grady’s Bar and Restaurant explained race week is Gort’s busiest week in the year.
“Traditionally, our turnover would treble. We get a lot business from Clare, Limerick, South Tipperary, Kerry, Cork and all along the western corridor. The advantage is that the bypass is half a kilometre from the square. There are so many places in Gort and people over the years have their own favourites. A lot of pubs run minibuses and so people stop in on their way to the races,” Mr Mullins said.
He explained that businesses in Gort “were apprehensive” about race week this year in the current economic climate and the town is acutely aware of the thousands of young people who have emigrated. However, he said he was surprised to see that Monday was a very busy day in the town.
Mr Mullins, like Mr Finnerty, acknowledged the kind of spending habits businesses in Gort were used to in previous years are just not there anymore.
“It is a constant struggle for business at the moment. The strength in people’s spend just isn’t there. Where someone would have a starter, main, dessert and tea or coffee, now they are just having a main course and that’s it. We are constantly running deals and we have a loyalty card scheme but there is a limit to that,” he said.
Indeed, the bookies in the town will also be hoping to avail of the race meet and many local bookmakers have also headed for Ballybrit.
The race festival runs until Sunday and on Thursday, women from all over the country will be seen flocking to Ballybrit in all their finery as they vie for a chance to be in the Ladies’ Day winning enclosure.