Tourist numbers on the rise as visitors attracted to Atlantic Way

Call for more initiatives to get more visitors to venture out of Dublin

At this moment, several foreign journalists are exploring the path of the Wild Atlantic Way, which stretches from Donegal to Cork. They might encounter Finnish travel blogger Satu Vänskä-Westgarth, who is in the middle of cycling the 2,500km route, or they could bump into the Indian tour operators who are also touring the State.

Media trips like these are just one factor explaining the increase in tourists in recent years. According to the Central Statistics Office, there was a 10.3 per cent increase in overseas visitors for the first six months of the year.

Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons says there was a 13.6 per cent increase in British tourist numbers this year and the increase in continental customers was being felt in recent months. It looks like being another record year for US tourists, with numbers up by more than 10.6 per cent.

They are not just staying in Dublin. It was like Christmas Eve on Kilkenny's High Street last Saturday, according to Pat Crotty, who runs the Paris Texas Cafe Bar. "I could hardly find a spot to stand on, there were so many people on the street," he says. "Kilkenny might not be the best barometer of how the pub trade is going because it does better than a lot of places anyway, but relative to the last couple of years, it is much stronger, even for us."


The city attracts many Irish visitors but this year he has noticed a significant increase in tourists from Britain. “We get a lot from France and Italy and of course the North Americans, but also quite a few Canadians this year.”

Pádraig Cribben of the Vintners Federation of Ireland says the future of the Irish pub is looking secure again. More than 1,000 pubs closed in the past six or seven years but now some doors are being reopened and they are offering much more than just drink. “Some 80 per cent of people say they are using pubs for food now,” he says.

Down in the Bunker Bar in Killorglin, Co Kerry, Ger Counihan says tourist numbers are "well up" on last year. "Early on in the year, we had a load of Canadians. At the moment we have a lot of continental visitors. That's amazing for a small town like Killorglin. The beauty of it with these people is that they have their own transport and they are making their way into the highways and byways of the country."

The Wild Atlantic Way is cited by many people who talk about the increase in visitors. "It's certainly helping us an awful lot," says Shane Smyth, tourism officer with Discover Bundoran. "We are between two of the major discovery points – Mullaghmore Head and Slieve League cliffs – so a lot of people are stopping off in Bundoran. This year we have a lot of Irish doing the stay-at-home thing, but we're certainly seeing an awful lot more Italians and French, too."

Restaurant Association of Ireland chief executive Adrian Cummins says the success of the Wild Atlantic Way shows how such initiatives can encourage tourists to see more than Dublin. "We need a strategy to tackle the Shannon, the midlands and the Border region. The recovery is not lifting all boats."

Business in Dublin is not as easy as it looks, according to Pádraic Óg Gallagher, who runs the Boxty House in Temple Bar. “More than 2,000 seats have opened up in Dublin 2 over the past 18 months. That’s like 20 restaurants my size.” He says restaurants with outdoor seating outside have done particularly well after two good summers, “but tourists still complain about the price of drink and we got hit with excise duty twice in the last two budgets.”

Despite being away from the major tourist routes, the family-run Weir's Bar and Restaurant in Multyfarnham, Co Westmeath, is enjoying a good season. "Business is up, definitely up, since last year," says Pat Weir. "We've had a good summer."

The restaurant gets a lot of custom from motorists on the Dublin-Sligo road, as well as from locals, “but tourists are not something we see a lot of”, Weir adds. “A lot of the tourists we see would be heading to Sligo or they’ve been to Ireland before and they’ve decided to look inland on the second or third trip.”

Alison Healy

Alison Healy

Alison Healy is a contributor to The Irish Times