Clare hotels have seen business return to 2007 levels, according to a former president of the Irish Hotels’ Federation and Lahinch hotelier Michael Vaughan.
Figures from the Central Statistics Office, released this week, showed that overseas trips to Ireland increased by 13.5% for the period July to September 2015.
According to Mr Vaughan, while this year has been good, 2016 is likely to be even better.
“In overall terms, I think in the hotel business, 2015 will go down as the year that tourism returned to normality and that was the picture throughout County Clare. Everyone is satisfied with the year that they had. We have now reached the level of business we did in 2007, which is a clear return to the normal tourism cycle. The main reasons for that is the North American market, which was the stellar performer of 2015.
I’m predicting an equally good year for 2016. My bookings are ahead of where they would have been at this time last year,” he said.
According to the owner of Vaughan Lodge “the currency exchange on the dollar and sterling has definitely helped”.
The CSO figures seem to back this up. In 2014, more than 7.6 million people visited the country. This compares with 8.012 million tourists in 2007, with an average stay of more than nine nights per person. The number of overseas trips to Ireland by non-residents increased from 2.440 million in the third quarter of 2014 to 2.771 million trips over the last quarter, representing a 13.5% increase.
However, the average duration of trips here fell from 8.1 nights in the third quarter of last year to 7.9 nights from July to October this year. Excluding fares, the international tourist expenditure during the third quarter of 2015 increased by 19% on the same period in 2014.
“2007 was the peak as we knew it at the time but we were just coming from the massive tourism infrastructure investment, when 15,000 additional hotel rooms were built in the country. So it was a watershed year in terms of what developed afterwards. 2007 was a good tourism year and we are back to that now, back to a level we would normally expect,” Mr Vaughan said.
“During the season in Lahinch, between April and the end of September, you would hope to achieve 65% occupancy, so two-thirds of your rooms would be full all of the time. That is something that has not been achieved in a while and we achieved in excess of that in 2015.”
Mr Vaughan said higher bedroom prices in Dublin is proving to be a benefit for the rest of the country.
“The coach tour market is something that has been coming up more and more. The high prices in Dublin are driving tour operators to look at bringing more of their business to the west and out of the capital. That is something that is most welcome,” he added.
Other factors like new routes at Shannon Airport and the “bedding in” of the Wild Atlantic Way are also attributed to the increase in tourism numbers. “When you look at the tourism map, Shannon and North Clare are coming close to what our colleagues in Kerry and Galway have always enjoyed,” he concluded.
By Nicola Corless