TÁNAISTE Leo Varadkar was welcomed to Clare by members of the local authority, along with the thousands of others who have chosen this county for their staycation this summer.
Warm tributes were paid by councillors on the success of a major tourism marketing campaign, launched in conjunction with the re-opening of the country and the easing of some lockdown restrictions.
Calling on the council to provide extra support for the county’s tourism networks, Councillor Joe Killeen said it was wonderful to see so many people “staycating” in Clare, and that extra resources should be given to local organisations to enable them to offer visitors the best possible experience. “Around a quarter of Clare people work in tourism,” the Fianna Fáil member noted. “The sector is vital. Clare gets around 5% of all domestic tourism on average and I would expect that to be much higher this year. We have huge strengths in our tourism networks and huge expertise because they are made up of local organisations working together.”
Councillor Joe Garrihy backed his North Clare colleague, saying it was fantastic to see the success of the council’s tourism campaign. “You can see the large influx of staycationers,” he said. “They are so welcome. Irish people have shown great solidarity and it was really nice to see the Tanáiste visiting Clare and boosting its profile. I took a spin around the coast at the weekend and there are lots of people here who would normally be on a beach on the continent.” The Fine Gael member added that while the tourism boost is “hugely welcome and hugely needed,” it was putting increased demand on resources like litter and traffic management. “Supporting the tourism networks is key,” he said. “We would get exceptional value from our investment in them.”
Fianna Fáil’s Councillor Shane Talty agreed there had been “great exposure for Clare”. “The success of the tourism campaign can be clearly seen,” he said. “There is a challenge that comes with that and we will be looking for additional resources and a multiagency approach including the Gardaí.” Fellow party member Councillor Pat Daly said the county’s main coastal areas were experiencing a boost: “They are all packed and long may it last. It’s great to see the council playing its part in promoting tourism.”
Councillor Pat McMahon noted that while the increase in visitors was welcome, there was disappointment over the cancellation of the Lisdoonvarna Match-Making Festival. “It’s a wonderful festival that goes on for a full month,” he said, “and it has probably been under-rated. It’s the first time in 180 years that it has been cancelled. Everyone feeds off it in a positive way.”
In the view of Councillor Cillian Murphy, Clare County Council has conducted “an excellent campaign” in promoting tourism. He noted that while Irish people spent €6bn in overseas travel in 2018, domestic tourism accounted for €4.5bn. “2020 will be different,” he said. “The other side of a successful marketing campaign is the need for resources and we must ensure that people have the best experience and the best memories of Clare because that is our marketing campaign for next year.”
The importance of spreading the benefits of tourism around the county was highlighted by Councillor Pat Hayes. “The Rural Development and Tourism Strategic Policy Committee (SPC) will be examining this in the autumn,” he noted. “During Covid, people have been learning that they have resources locally that haven’t been fully developed.”
Independent Councillor Ann Norton said it is hugely important that Clare is seen as “a holiday county”. “The boost in visitors is hugely welcome,” she said. “But people must be kept safe.”
Councillor Johnny Flynn added his voice to the commendations for the council’s Tourism Section. “Marketing is the promise,” he said. “Branding is the actual experience and we must make sure people have a positive time. We may need to look at extra resources, particularly around social distancing.”
Director of Finance and Support Services Noeleen Fitzgerald said that the council’s tourism and marketing campaign had been rolled out alongside the reopening of the economy and society. “It’s an immense success as evidenced by the numbers visiting,” she said. “We are still in a pandemic and very aware of public health advice”. Ms Fitzgerald said that a multiagency approach was being taken in terms of challenges posed by increased visitor numbers and would continue to do so, particularly in the run-up to the Bank Holiday Weekend.