Caveat: Industry must ensure tourists don’t craic up with our frothy prices

Our tourism industry will damage itself if prices allowed to swell too quickly

In the mood for love at the Cliffs of Moher – Tourism Ireland reported on Wednesday that overseas visitor numbers were up 13 per cent in the first six months of 2016

In the mood for love at the Cliffs of Moher – Tourism Ireland reported on Wednesday that overseas visitor numbers were up 13 per cent in the first six months of 2016

 

A recent family trip to west Cork was a salient reminder of why Ireland is such an attractive destination for tourists. Every inch of the place is a slice of heaven.

Staying at a beautiful farmhouse on the outskirts of Bantry, we used it as a base for exploring the region. Skibbereen, Clonakilty, Ahakista, Sheep’s Head... the entire west Cork area is encrusted with jewels.

One day, while sprawled out on the jaw-droppingly beautiful Barleycove beach near Mizen Head, I thought to myself we could be on any beach in the Caribbean, and it mightn’t be as nice as this. To my own amazement, I think I might even have uttered the words: “Sure, where would you get it?” It’s a ridiculous cliché, but when it comes to Ireland in the summer, it is almost undeniably true.

Warm weather is the clincher, of course. West Cork is a different place when it rains sideways in a biting wind. But last month, it was perfect. No wonder there is such a prominent west Cork “set”. It was as if the whole of Dalkey and Howth had upped sticks and moved there for the summer.

And brought their prices with them. Our farmhouse was reasonable, at €650 for the week. But friends of ours were staying in another, four-bed house that cost €1,500 for the week. Admittedly, theirs was on the outskirts of Schull, the most expensive part of the region where demand outstrips supply. But still, more than €210 per night for a family to self cater in county Cork?

Ripped off

The southwest is one of the premier tourist destinations in the country, so it would be unfair to bash it too hard for having pricier accommodation than elsewhere. And while hotel prices are rising fast across the State, the overhang of hotels outside of Dublin means you could probably still book a room without feeling ripped off.

The price of food and drink, however, is where tourists often get stung. In bejewelled west Cork, the cost of eating out is broadly equivalent to Dublin prices. Fair enough. After we left the area, however, we headed towards Limerick to visit family.

One evening, we took a trip to the gorgeous village of Adare, which was heaving with visitors from the US. A mediocre barfood meal for four adults and one child cost us about €140. No desserts. No coffees. No boozing. It wasn’t obscene for a tourist town. But it far from good value.

The most recent official statistics show that the Irish tourism industry is booming. Tourism Ireland reported on Wednesday that overseas visitor numbers were up 13 per cent in the first six months of 2016. Tourism is one of the State’s best indigenous exports, with overseas visitors spending more than €4.2 billion while here.

Domestic tourism is also in the clover. The numbers of Irish families holidaying at home last year were up 6 per cent, while they spent close to €1 billion, up 10 per cent.

The tourism industry is reasonably well supported by the State, which has granted it with a special 9 per cent VAT rate. It was supposed to be temporary rate, although it now looks set to become a permanent fixture. The government has repeatedly linked it, however, to price restraint.

Satisfied

According to Fáilte Ireland, three-quarters of domestic holidaymakers last year were satisfied with the prices they paid in Ireland. Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons also said this week that its research suggests that less than one in 10 foreign visitors think Ireland is bad value. That number once breached 40 per cent.

Rip-off Ireland hasn’t yet returned with a bang. Not to the same tourist-exploiting, diner-gouging extent to which it existed prior to the crash. But, anecdotally, it is difficult to escape the feeling that it could be in the post if things stay in full swing.

More than 40 per cent of visitors to Ireland come from Britain. The post-Brexit crash in sterling means Ireland has become about 13 per cent more expensive for those visitors overnight. And Britain has become about 13 per cent cheaper for the Irish families that previously holidayed at home, and for other visitors. Our biggest source market – and our biggest competitor – is now even more sensitive to price increases.

Tourism is uniquely well positioned to deliver strong employment growth, dispersed throughout the country in areas where jobs are needed. It is also one of our purest exports, because there is so little economic leakage: once tourists get here, the bulk of their spending stays with indigenous operators.

It would be an egregious act of self-harm if the tourism industry were to disadvantage itself by allowing prices to swell too quickly. It must remain vigilant.

FOOTNOTES

House Speaker Paul Ryan, who won his party’s primary on Tuesday for a congressional district in Wisconsin, is one of the best known Republicans in the US, widely respected inside and outside his party.

The day before the vote, he visited the A&E Tools factory in Racine, a city on the shores of Lake Michigan. Workers quizzed him on his trade policies and Ryan explained that he is uncomfortable with US companies shifting overseas for tax purposes in so-called inversion deals.

“Have you ever heard of Johnson Controls? They make the thermostat here,” Ryan told the workers. “They’re now becoming an Irish company. They’re doing this transaction to become Irish. You know I love Irish, I’m half-Irish, but I don’t like the fact that people are going to go become Irish companies. Their tax rate is 12.5 per cent. So this is the problem. We have more and more American companies becoming foreign companies in part.. because of the tax code.”

On the campaign trail, Ryan raised the issue of US companies relocating to Ireland for tax purposes in at least 30 such meetings, according to a quick, unscientific examination of media reports. And there are hundreds of Ryans running for office up and down the land in the US.

Does the Irish Government have a coherent strategy for communicating with the hordes of US politicians who are publicly criticising this country on a daily basis? If so, what is it? And why is it apparently having so little effect?

Welcome present? The closing down sale at HMV in Dundrum Town Centre was in full swing this week. All four HMV stores in the State owned by Hilco Capital are being shut, the company announced last month.

The Dundrum outlet is due to shut its doors on August 31st, although customers can snag a 50 per cent discount on all DVDs and BluRays if they get themselves to the store before the lights go out.

“What can you do?” said one staff member to an Irish Times spy on Tuesday. “It’s all gone online.”

Meanwhile, the car park charge at Dundrum has risen from €2 an hour to €3 an hour, a 50 per cent jump. Hello, there, tiger, it’s been a while.

Is this a welcoming present from Hammerson, the UK property company that last month bought the shopping centre?

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