THE tourism industry is up 20% on last year in some parts of the county.
As the summer draws to a close, former chairman of the Irish Hotels Federation and Lahinch hotelier, Michael Vaughan, has said that, on average across the county, it is up by 5% or 6% and that the hotel sector could be back to 2007 peak levels within the next two years.
“It was slow enough at the early part of the year but it improved as we got towards the main months and certainly the Wild Atlantic Way has brought tourists out along the coast, there is no doubt about that. Certainly there has been an improvement of at least 5% and 6% on last year and last year was up too, so we are getting closer to where we were before the bust came about. I think the figure we would love to reach is back to 2007 figures, which was the height of what we achieved. We are certainly getting close to that now,” he said.
“If we got another 5 or 6% next year, I think we would be pretty close to the figures from 2008 and that would be back to almost the height of the peak,” he added.
Mr Vaughan said coach tours brought a boom, to Ennis hotels in particular, this summer but that Irish people are beginning to spend more money too. He said Kilkee businesses are also reporting a good year to date.
“The domestic market certainly improved on last year and people were spending more money than they had previously,” he commented.
The Wild Atlantic Way, the IHF national council member believes, will continue to bring tourists to Clare throughout the off-season. Mr Vaughan also believes that being proactive and building activities will ensure visitors will stay longer here.
This is borne out in North Clare where Hotel Doolin has seen a boost of about one-fifth in visitor numbers year-on-year and strong growth for the past three years. Manager Donal Minihane puts this down to two things in particular.
“It has been a good summer overall. Definitely, our visitor numbers are up. We have had an increase in visitor numbers by about 20% on last year. We do a lot of festivals and also we have got into the alternative wedding market as well, which has been very lucrative for us and has brought people in from other parts of the country and abroad as well. They are our two big things.”
Doolin has held a craft beer festival, a folk festival, a writers’ festival and a Harley Davidson festival this year, each attracting large numbers from different geographic markets.
“We have also seen an increase in visitors from the States, UK and Europe. The Wild Atlantic Way is starting to bring in new numbers but I think it will be more next year. People are becoming more aware of it but I think it will be next year that it will really hit,” Mr Minihane added.
The increase in numbers coming to the hotel has resulted in an economic benefit for the wider area, he believes. Seasonal staffing levels in Hotel Doolin have grown from in the region of 50 people in the summer of 2011, to more than 90 this year.
“We use all local suppliers, so there is a ripple effect. We have spent about €2 million in purchases already this year,” he added.
In Ennis, Siobhán Hassett of Treacy’s West County Hotel said this summer exceeded expectations.
“It has been a great summer for us, a great year really since Treacys took over the hotel back in March. We are very happy with it. We could have built another hotel and sold rooms in it last weekend, there was so much demand. It is above our expectations,” she said.
At the county’s best-known visitor attraction, numbers are up more than 10% on the same period last year, which was itself a record year for the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience.
“The Wild Atlantic Way, launched earlier this year by Fáilte Ireland, is most definitely a factor in this growth and has really caught the imagination of overseas visitors. We have also noticed a dramatic impact of the increase in capacity and routes into Shannon Airport. The Cliffs Coastal Trail, which was opened last year from Doolin to Liscannor via the Cliffs of Moher, continues to be very popular and, of course, the good weather has also played a part. We are confident that the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience will exceed one million visitors by the end of 2014; it just remains to be seen by how much,” Katherine Webster, director of the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience stated.
Newer attractions are also doing well. The total number of recorded visitors to the White-Tailed Sea Eagle Viewing and Information Point since it opened on July 4 at Mountshannon Pier is nearly 8,000. Loop Head Lighthouse has seen a 5% increase in tourists this year, compared to last year, with nearly 18,000 people visiting it since the beginning of April.
Ger Dollard, director of services responsible for planning, community and economic development, with Clare County Council, described tourist numbers as “significantly up this year” but says this is not due to the Wild Atlantic Way.“I do not think current improvements in visitor numbers to the county can be attributed to the Wild Atlantic Way. This is a very new concept, just launched this year and is only beginning to seep into public consciousness. Increases are more due to general economic improvement, additional flights at Shannon Airport and the after-glow from the Gathering.”