THE Clare Tourism Advisory Forum has written to Minister Roderic O’Gorman urging a more even dispersal of refugees across the country, as it claims the repurposing of tourist accommodation here has hit the sector hard.
Vice Chairman of the Forum Maurice Walsh wrote the letter which claimed Clare tourism is suffering due to the loss of over a third of tourism accommodation in the county. “The Clare Tourism Advisory Forum, the representative body for the tourism industry in County Clare, wishes to bring to your attention a matter of serious concern to those operating within the local tourism and hospitality sector.
“We are appealing to you to explore all possible opportunities for ensuring accommodation provided to International Protection Applicants and those seeking temporary protection is more evenly dispersed across the country, instead of being heavily concentrated in western counties such as County Clare that are reliant on tourism.
“The 37% reduction in the number of available bed nights in County Clare due to the repurposing of hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses has resulted in a significant loss to the local tourism economy and has consequently, impacted County Clare’s competitiveness.”
He urged the Minister to use other publicly owned businesses, rather than relying on tourist accommodation. “With a view to easing the accommodation shortage in the Clare hospitality sector and in support of the Government’s programme of sourcing appropriate accommodation for international protection applicants and those seeking international protection, the Clare Tourism Advisory Forum respectfully requests your government to intensify efforts to audit and repurpose State-owned properties for accommodation. This includes all properties under the remit of the Defence Forces, the Office of Public Works, Department of Transport, Department of Education along with other governmental departments and State Agencies.
“While Clare tourism operators acknowledge the unprecedented crisis facing Europe and Ireland’s international obligations to accommodate International Protection Applicants and those seeking temporary protection, we feel that the County Clare hospitality sector has contributed more than most other parts of Ireland and that efforts to reduce the dependence on accommodation providers in tourism-reliant counties would be welcomed.
“We look forward to hearing from you regarding the Government’s stated position on this issue, which, if forthcoming, might ease the concerns of our members and help to protect the future viability of our sector.”
Speaking to the Champion on Wednesday, Mr Walsh said that while late July would typically be very busy for the tourism sector, that isn’t the case this year. “The whole night time economy in Clare has really gone non-existent in the last 5-7 weeks. Usually at this time of year there’s a high volume of tourists into the county, people looking at restaurants or looking for a bit of entertainment, a bit of music in local bars. At local coffee shops during the day the footfall is way down, in restaurants the footfall is way down and it’s a direct consequence of 37% of the bank of accommodation in Clare being used by refugees.”
He said that Clare is doing more than its share in terms of refugee accommodation. “We all understand the consequences of the war in Ukraine. Clare is a very open and welcoming county but we are definitely at our limit at this stage or gone over our limit compared to counties on the east coast of the country.”
There is less work available in the sector than would typically be the case at this time of year. “There’s definitely an impact in that you are not recruiting as many people as you would have had to have in other years. Unfortunately with the people that have been recruited, you send them home early or bring them in later. The work isn’t there. It has a knock on effect and it will have a knock on effect in the quieter months that are coming.”
Over one third of tourism accommodation has already been taken out of the market, he says that if the figure rises certain businesses will have to shut. “If the figure increases you will definitely have businesses closing. Clare tourism has been very resilient but this will affect people and they will have to close.”
He said relatively few refugees have been housed in Lahinch, and that area is still performing quite well. “Lahinch has a night time economy. They have a lot of guesthouses, self catering accommodation and mobile home facilities, there is a footfall at nighttime. In the rest of the county in areas where there is a lot of Ukraine accommodation, they are really struggling.”
Mr Walsh runs Durty Nelly’s in Bunratty and he says that has been hit hard, with a huge amount of accommodation no longer available to tourists. “There is zero night time accommodation and zero footfall.”
Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.