Visitors to major tourism attractions down 10% in 2019 – industry group

Industry fears end of seven-year expansion may be looming

The Cliffs of Moher,  in Co Clare, are one of the country’s biggest tourism visitor attractions.

The Cliffs of Moher, in Co Clare, are one of the country’s biggest tourism visitor attractions.

 

An industry group that represents the Republic’s biggest tourism visitor attractions such as the Cliffs of Moher, Bunratty Castle and the Guinness Storehouse says its members are reporting declines of up to 10 per cent in 2019.

The downbeat projection from the Association of Visitor Experiences and Attractions (Avea) is the latest evidence to suggest the tourism sector’s near seven-year expansion may be nearing an end.

The group, which begins its two-day annual conference in Thomond Park in Limerick on Monday, surveyed members recently on the performance of their business so far this year.

“Unfortunately, 2019 has not lived up to visitor expectations so far,” said the organisation’s incoming chairman, Niall O’Callaghan, managing director of Shannon Heritage. “While the sector remains positive, performance will be down by up to 10 per cent on 2018. Clouds are gathering on the horizon for Irish tourism.”

Avea members collectively employ about 4,000 staff, and welcomed 22.6 million visitors in 2018, generating revenues of €489 million.

Warning

The organisation is warning, however, that the impact Brexit and “more unstable geo-social and political environments in many of our international markets” threaten the sector.

It is also worried about the increase in costs such as insurance, and the impact this has on the industry’s competitiveness. The association has called for more State support for the sector and further capital expenditure.

“Now is the time for a close working relationship with Government,” said Mr O’Callaghan.

The organisation’s vice-chairwoman, Grainne Kelliher, who is also chief executive of the Airfield estate in Dublin, said a slowdown is being experienced “across the country” among its members in 2019.

‘Slowdown is coming’

“It looks like a slowdown is coming. There is a little bit less money around and people are more cautious,” she said. “There is definitely a slowdown in the bus tours market. Tours are still coming, but the buses are not necessarily full.”

She said Airfield, a visitor farm and gardens in south Dublin, derives only about one-fifth of its business from international visitors, so is somewhat insulated from any slowdown.

“The Irish market has been fairly steady. We did, however, notice a dip at the beginning of the summer, so we stepped up our marketing.”

She said last year’s budget increase in VAT for tourism had affected many members. Over a third of them had “taken the hit” and absorbed the increase without raising prices, to try and stay competitive.

Airfield, which hadn’t raised its prices in five years and had budgeted to do so anyway, effectively passed on the VAT increase for adults but not for children, Ms Kelliher said.