THE Clare pub trade is on the up, according to Matthew Griffin, chairman of the Clare Branch of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI).
The Ennistymon man made the comment ahead of the annual general meeting of the VFI in Killarney next week.
“This time last year I was of the mind that the pub trade was starting to turn a corner. Thankfully, this has been the case and we have seen a gradual improvement. Granted, this isn’t the case everywhere and undoubtedly some pubs are still struggling but I believe we can say that what seemed a terminal decline of the pub is coming to an end and we can look forward to this gradual improvement continuing. Pubs in busy cities, towns and tourist areas will always recover first but the recovery will take longer to filter through to smaller towns and villages,” he said.
According to Mr Griffin, external economic factors are helping matters for publicans.
“Firstly, while many are still feeling the pinch, overall, consumer confidence is on the rise again, as the economy begins to recover and this should be positive for many pubs across the county. Secondly, the pub is absolutely crucial to this country’s tourism offering,” he claimed.
Mr Griffin highlighted, “Research shows over 80% of tourists use the pub for food and/or entertainment. In a recent Failte Ireland survey of 1,514 visitors to Ireland, 83% of those surveyed said they had listened to live Irish music in a pub. Let’s not forget as well that the Irish pub has previously been voted as the number one tourist destination by the Lonely Planet.”
He pointed out that growing tourist numbers and the Wild Atlantic Way both contributed to growth in the pub sector. Last summer, he said, “The Irish pub cemented its place as the number one tourist attraction by catering for the many tourists who visited. We should also take heart from the fact that the most recent CSO figures show a 14% rise in visitor numbers for the first three months of 2015.”
Publicans too deserve credit for their innovation, Mr Griffin stated.
“The vast majority of pubs have become leaner businesses and have started focussing on changed offerings: improving their food offering, sourcing top-class music and entertainment acts, hosting themed nights and really ensuring that when a customer visits the pub, they are enjoying an experience and are getting value for money. Customers now need a reason to leave their homes and pubs must offer experiences and variety. Publicans have embraced more creative and better ways of marketing themselves.”
Mr Griffin said while he finds it “frustrating” to remind people of the importance of the pub “current stats indicate over 90,000 people are dependent on the drinks industry for employment, the majority of whom are in the pub trade. In this county alone, 2,909 people are employed by the drinks industry. The reality here though is our industry creates jobs in areas where there is not much else in terms of employment.
“Communal activities, such as clubs and sports teams, have originated and continue to do as a result of the pub. The pub isn’t just about drink, it is a meeting place, a venue and hub. Don’t just take my word for it but look at independent research, which shows that annual support by pubs towards local sports teams and events is just short of Ђ3.5 million and almost 50% of pubs are currently supporting a local sports club or outdoor event,” he added.
The publican called on the Government to “ensure that taxes on alcohol are actually reduced, which will benefit employment, consumers, communities and tourism”.
Focussing on the positives, he said, “As other services like post offices, tourist offices and garda stations are being closed, there will be a further reliance on pubs in many rural areas for essential services.”
“I would remind people that as an industry, we are united, hard-working, creative and very resilient. We are finally starting to come off the ropes, having received a standing eight count for the last few years. It is now up to us all to dust ourselves down and take up the fight once again,” Mr Griffin stated.