WITH the first direct scheduled flights between Cork and the United States starting on July 1st, tourism providers in the south west are hoping for a boost in US visitor numbers to the region. There is growing potential in this market, as Fáilte Ireland’s preliminary ‘Tourism Facts 2016,’ published last week, revealed that, for the first time, the number of North American holidaymakers broke the one million barrier for the year.
This figure includes visitors from both the USA and Canada, with the majority (88%) of these coming from the States. Overseas tourist visits to Ireland in 2016 grew by 8.8% to 8.742 million. Of these, 4.4 million were holidaymakers – tourists who stated that their primary purpose for visiting Ireland was for a holiday.
The North American market component of this was 1,041,000 – an increase of 12% on last year – with the majority of these going to Dublin, so with flights now coming into Cork from Providence, Rhode Island, three times a week, hopefully the south west, and West Cork in particular, will benefit from more holidaymakers.
Britain remains our biggest source market for overseas tourists, representing 41% of all such visits. The next biggest source market is mainland Europe, which accounts for 36% of international volume.
The number of holidaymakers from Britain increased again in 2016 as most people would have made their plans prior to the Brexit vote to leave the European Union, which weakened the value of sterling against the euro and eroded the value for money they are getting in this country. The visitor figures from there for this year will be interesting to see.
With the currency differential unfavourable for British holidaymakers, offering value for money with tourism products and services here is going to be even more important, especially also as the numbers from mainland Europe are increasing exponentially. While the vast majority of providers in areas like West Cork appreciate what they have and are not exploiting tourists, unfortunately we are hearing reports of prices rocketing – for Dublin hotel rooms in particular – in recent times, fuelling fears of a return to the ‘Rip-off Republic’ scenario of the boom times, which the industry cannot afford.
The lessons of the recent past should not be forgotten and spurned by greed once again, especially given the incentives the last government provided to get the tourism industry back on its feet during the economic downturn. With the tourism and hospitality industry employing an estimated 220,000 people and generating some €5.7 billion in revenue a year, it cannot afford reputational damage at a time of uncertainty caused by many external political factors.
We need to look after the areas that are within our control and reasonable pricing of products and services is key so that holidaymakers will feel that they are getting value for money here and will recommend it to family and friends. This part of the visitor experience, coupled with a warm and friendly welcome and the provision of guidance to help people get the most out of their holiday in the area, is what will draw people back.
With Norwegian Air landing several hundred people a week from the US at Cork Airport, right at the southern doorstep of the Wild Atlantic Way, hopefully it will reap a dividend for West Cork’s tourism industry this year and for many more to come.