Tourist sites told to ‘maintain good experiences’

Some major attractions struggle to maintain standards while keeping up with demand

Liam Cunningham in ‘Game of Thrones’, which was filmed on location in Northern Ireland. Some 30 diverse tourist businesses have grown as a result of the series. Photograph: HBO

Liam Cunningham in ‘Game of Thrones’, which was filmed on location in Northern Ireland. Some 30 diverse tourist businesses have grown as a result of the series. Photograph: HBO

 

Visitor attractions in Ireland have started to receive comments such as “herded like cattle” and “queuing for hours”, an inaugural conference of venue operators has heard.

The comments made on international websites such as TripAdvisor had the potential to damage tourism but must be understood in the light of genuine visitor experiences, as venues struggle to cope with demand.

That is according to Mark Henry, central marketing director with Tourism Ireland, who told the inaugural conference of the Association of Visitor Experiences and Attractions that operators must maintain good visitor experiences.

Some major attractions are starting to get comments “on poor visitor experiences because of crowds”, he said. But, in a question and answer session, he said capacity issues at large tourist attractions could give opportunities for separate, ancillary attractions. He said some 30 diverse tourist businesses had grown in various areas of Northern Ireland around the fame of Game of Thrones, which was filmed on location there.

Paddy Mathews, head of attractions with Fáilte Ireland, said OPW attractions at Newgrange, Kilmainham Gaol and Dublin Castle had started to use an online booking system in order to manage demand. It was something the independent sector should look at, he suggested.

Rapid growth

Charles Coyle, general manager of Tayto Park, told the conference how rapid growth at the Co Meath attraction came as “an incredible shock”.

Mr Coyle said initial business was so slow that the park’s founder, snack-food entrepreneur Ray Coyle had joked of the snow-covered attraction in November 2010: “What have we done? We can’t even make a nursing home out of it”.

But Charles Coyle said when growth did come it was more than the business was geared to handle. He said visitor numbers hit 4,500 in one day and while the management team rushed to keep up – “and our great hope was for 160,000 visitors a year” – the numbers hit 300,00.

In 2012, Mr Coyle said the numbers grew to 390,000 but visitors were queuing for food, queuing for toilets, and there was real concern that people would never return. In 2014, with new attractions and a redesigned park, visitor numbers hit 450,000 and on one day in 2015 there were 12,500 visitors. In 2016, Tayto Park expanded its facilities and the following year visitor numbers hit 770,300. He said the business made many mistakes and struggled to keep up with “brilliant marketing people”.

Summing up the experience of rapid demand he said “if you don’t give people good value they will be harsh about it and they won’t come back”.