With international travel effectively grounded, those involved in the tourism sector in Clare will find themselves in a dogfight with established tourist centres like Killarney and Kilkenny for their slice of the domestic market.
Tourism consultant Cillian Murphy believes that the whole tourism year in Clare will hinge on the domestic market and there should be a unified approach between all the stakeholders so that Clare is able to compete.
However, he also feels that Clare will be fighting an uphill battle in consequence of Shannon Heritage’s decision to “lock up shop” and close its major tourist attractions from the end of August.
“There’s only the one game in town and that is the domestic market. I’d imagine we will see some bit of business from Northern Ireland and maybe the UK. But inconsequential is how I would label international travel this year,” he suggests.
Tourism interests in Clare will have to bring their A game in their endeavours to win their share of the market, he feels.
“The big issue is that we will have to compete with places like Killarney, Kilkenny and Dublin for business. The business model in these places is based 80% to 90% on the international market and the domestic market is the top up. This year that has changed dramatically.
“We are now in the space where the only market in town is domestic and we are going to be going head-to-head with places like Killarney for that business. They will be looking at concerts in the INEC Arena and other venues in the shoulder months and that is going to make it very challenging for counties like Clare.
“Killarney is really pushing their product at a price that is very attractive, really it’s about filling beds. Everybody in Clare is fighting for the same business; it will be dog eat dog for that market. We will find it very difficult to compete,” he warns.
However, Mr Murphy says it is vital that the likes of Clare County Council and other stakeholders are singing from the same hymn sheet.
“We as a county have to put all our hats in the ring and make the county an attractive place to come to. We have to be able to spread the love across the county. It won’t be good enough just to concentrate on the big attractions. We need to spread the benefit outwards, to use them as leavers to attract people to the county rather than just to the attractions themselves. That should be key,” he adds.
“That’s where the likes of Shannon Heritage deciding that they are not opening Bunratty and Cragganowen and places like that for the winter, that has consequences for our domestic attractiveness. That to me is completely inappropriate.
“I think they have a moral duty really to the county to step up here and have those attractions open and to work with our local accommodation providers in the county to drive a product that is going to make Clare very attractive in the winter time.
“There is an onus on them and its not appropriate to expect a few small activity providers – guesthouses, pubs and restaurants in the west of the county to step up and step into the dogfight that is going to be the domestic market.
“That the likes of Shannon Heritage can pull the plug for the winter and say ‘sure look we won’t bother’, I think that is shocking to be honest. They have a moral responsibility here to the county, they are quick to use it on the other side when they want to. I think it is not good enough in our time of need that they are shutting up shop,” he claims.
Mr Murphy is adamant that the only way the whole county is going to benefit from this is “if we fight it on a county level.”
“Shannon Heritage is a private company and can make their own decisions on how they do their business. In one way what I’d be saying is that ‘yes we understand they have got financial stakeholders and they have to be looked after’ but they operate in a space that has responsibilities to the environment that they live in which is the county.
“I’m not talking about the grass, the tress or the bushes I’m talking about environment, the space they inhabit. They have a responsibility to the local community that they serve. Sometimes we have to put the hand out and say ‘we need you now. The council and the county needs you’. That time is now,” he adds.
Mr Murphy fervently believes that if Clare doesn’t have its principle attractions open and available and working to the greater good “we are not going to be able to play the game at the level we should be able to.”
“Only by working together will the hit be cushioned from what it could be but we need everybody on board,” he believes.