Brexit unknowns and the fall in sterling are having an impact on UK visitor numbers in West Cork.
Data compiled by the Skibbereen Tourist Office shows that 1,784 visitors from Britain used the service in 2016, but the number dropped to 1,519 in 2017, and to 1,503 last year.
Office manager Cian O’Mahony said that, despite the decline, West Cork is bucking the national trend because it ‘always has and always will be popular with UK visitors.’
Cian said: ‘This area has been a favoured destination for our nearest neighbours for such a long time now that it is ingrained.
‘And while Brexit is bound to have a ripple effect, it, hopefully, will not hold back those who holiday here each year, or have holiday homes in the area.’
Cian said the strength of the UK market is reflected in the fact that it accounts for nearly a quarter of all the people calling to the tourist office in Skibbereen.
The percentage of German visitors is also consistently strong, whilst the visitor numbers from EU countries, like the Netherlands, is on the increase.
Overall, it has been another successful year for the manager and staff at the office with over 7,000 people calling in for information and advice.
The data compiled shows that Skibbereen Heritage Centre had a good year, too, in 2018 with an impressive 21,750 visitors and yet another Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence.
Cian said the tourist office – which is part funded by Skibbereen and District Chamber of Commerce and relies a lot on the goodwill and natural professionalism of its volunteer staff – operates from March to November.
The numbers for the early part of the season are understandably low – between 100 and 150 – but at its peak, during the months of June, July and August, the staff deal with all sorts of queries from between 900 to 1,900 tourists.
A lot of Irish people visiting West Cork use the service too. In fact, 3,100 Irish people accounted for 44.3% of the customers in 2018.
Saturday continues to be the busiest day of the week with around 2,500 people calling in to simply browse through the information leaflets and the maps.
Approximately 1,000 of the 7,000 visitors call specifically to ask ‘What are the things to do in Skibbereen?’ while 750 more are there to seek information about local festival and events.
The town’s tourist office also serves as an important link to the wider West Cork community and staff provide a steady stream of information about the outlying towns and villages and the events they hold right throughout the year.
There is practical information to be given to visitors too, particularly in relation to the availability of accommodation.
Cian said there is no escaping the fact that the launch of the Wild Atlantic Way has sparked a huge amount of interest in the region.
He said: ‘Visitors are now flocking to all parts of West Cork from Bandon, west to the tip of the Beara Peninsula.
‘Instead of touring the area – the way the American visitors used to do – tourists are now more discerning. They like to tick off a check list of must see attractions and must do events.
‘Whatever the day of the week, or the time of the year,’ Cian said, ‘it is always a pleasure to be able to help people in such a practical way. It costs nothing but it gives them a sense of welcome, and affinity with the town.’
Last year, the future of the tourist office at its current location seemed in doubt because Fáilte Ireland indicated that it was no longer going to lease the building from Cork County Council.
However, Bev Cotton, chairman of Skibbereen and District Chamber of Commerce, said they are still in negotiation with Cork County Council about taking over the lease of the premises – which is actually part of Skibbereen Town Hall – on favourable terms.