HOPES continue to be expressed that the tourism season in East Clare can be salvaged to some degree, despite the severe blow dealt to the region by Covid-19.
Chairperson of East Clare Tourism Arlene White said the season to-date “has not been a total washout” and that the potential of the area to offer people activities in nature and at uncrowded locations continued to be realised.
“It is nothing like it should be, naturally,” she said. “People are out and about walking and kayaking though and it’s not quite bad as people had feared.”
There is a widespread acknowledgement that, when it comes to accommodation, self-catering providers are faring best. “In some cases,” Arlene said, “demand is out-stripping supply and self-catering is booming.” That situation contrasts with the plight faced by traditional Bed and Breakfast accommodation. “I do know of some in East Clare who have decided, for the protection of their own health, that they won’t open this year,” she added.
At Clareville House, an award-winning B&B in Tuamgraney, Teresa Browne described the season thus far as “slow and extremely difficult”.
“I had my entire book of reservations cancelled by April 1,” she said. “There is a staycation market, but really I would be depending on UK and US visitors.”
One of the initiatives undertaken by Clareville House has been signing up to a Covid-19 Safety Charter, designed by Fáilte Ireland. “We were among the first to do so,” said Teresa. “We are doing everything we should be in terms of training, cleaning and infection control.”
The charter, according to Arlene White is key. “The Clare Tourism Recovery Task Force is a collaboration between Fáilte Ireland, the council and the local networks and we’re working hard to gauge what visitors are looking for. From the consumer feedback, concern over safety is the main barrier. That’s why we really need to push the Safety Charter. Visitors want to see it on display. We must start encouraging people to come and visit and to give them the confidence to do so. By September and October, providers would normally be focusing on the ‘active agers’. They’re obviously more vulnerable, so providers really need to be able to prove they are meeting safety standards.”
The cancellation of East Clare’s internationally-regarded summer festivals is also having a major impact, as has the decision of Shannon Heritage to keep some key local attractions closed and to limit the season for others.
“Something has to be done,” Teresa said. “It’s so disappointing that Bunratty is to close in the autumn. People coming to stay with me later in the season would also go to visit. The closure of Cragganowen is a big blow too.” When asked if she would back local calls for the intervention of Clare County Council, she said local authority support would be welcome. “Anything that Clare County Council has done with regard to tourism has been very successful,” she noted. “Look at the Cliffs of Moher. We have Holy Island here and people are really frustrated at the length of time that the full development of that project is taking to get off the ground. We would never be inundated with visitors in the way that North Clare is, but it really would give a boost to this area.”
The restriction of air traffic at Shannon Airport was described by Teresa as “a huge issue”. “We need government action, nothing else will resolve this,” she said. “At least there are talks going on, so that is giving some cause for optimism.”
Locally, Teresa welcomed the new audio-visual installation at St Cronan’s Church in Tuamgraney, which she and her husband open daily to visitors, in collaboration with the local development association.
The roll-out by Fáilte Ireland of the Hidden Heartlands brand comes at an opportune time, in Arlene’s view. “The brand is all about getting out and about in nature, and having quiet time, away from crowds,” she explained. “With Covid-19, a lot of people are looking for that. Clare County Council have also done an absolutely fantastic job in marketing the county as a destination for domestic tourism and that’s our lifeline this year.”