In May, visitors from Britain to Ireland dropped by 4.4%, compared to the same time in 2018 – and West Cork towns are now feeling the brunt of this, due to our heavy reliance in the past on the UK market, writes Niamh Hayes
WEST Cork’s tourist providers are noticing a marked decline in UK business as Brexit uncertainties continue to build.
Latest Tourism Ireland figures show that overseas visitors to this country are up 3.7% in the first half of the year.
However, in the month of May, visitors from Britain dropped by 4.4%, compared to the same time in 2018 – and West Cork towns are feeling the brunt of this, with claims that jobs in the tourism industry in more remote areas are at risk.
Eileen O’Shea, chairperson of Bantry Development & Tourism Association, says the decline in UK visitors is very evident in the town.
‘We have noticed a big drop in UK visitors which, of course, is worrying as it’s one of our best markets.
‘However, we have a very strong European market, particularly this year from Germany, as well as from the US and Canada.’
‘The seven cruise liners into Bantry Bay this year were a great boost and we are confident that the rest of the season will hold good from all markets,’ she added.
The Bamboo Park in Glengarriff has noticed an overall fall in tourist numbers this season, including very few UK visitors, but is hopeful that the rest of the summer will pick up.
The team behind Atlantic Sea Kayaking see a similar pattern, with overall numbers down on last year, not necessarily from the UK.
Meanwhile in Skibbereen, while overall tourist numbers are on par with previous years, the number of UK visitors to the area is also slightly down.
Cian O’Mahony from Skibbereen Tourist Office said: ‘The number of British tourists would be down, but not as much as people are saying as we get a lot of repeat visitors from the UK.’
Brexit, it seems, is the primary reason UK visitors are choosing not to visit Ireland this year. Changes in the sterling-euro exchange rate mean that holidays to Ireland are now more expensive for British tourists.
The hotel industry is noticing a big drop, too. Michael O’Neill Jnr, proprietor of Fernhill House Hotel in Clonakilty, and mayor of the town, said that they have seen a significant drop in British visitors so far this year.
‘It is worrying for West Cork as a whole.
‘The uncertainty caused by Brexit, coupled with the weakness of the sterling has proved to be a huge deterrent to British visitors,’ he said.
‘This was well forecast for years so it compounds the short-sightedness of the government to increase the VAT rate to a higher level than most of our European neighbours.’
Michael believes that people are losing, and will continue to lose, jobs in vulnerable areas of rural West Cork as a consequence.
Neil Grant, general manager of the Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery, says that although their UK trade is split into two sectors, group business and individual travellers, there is still a significant reduction in the overall numbers.
‘Our group numbers have held at a similar level to other years, but our individual travellers have reduced substantially since the Brexit vote and have never bounced back,’ admitted Neil.
Although West Cork is always popular for stay-at-home vacations, and local businesses can usually depend on this trade, more Irish people are now vacationing overseas, which is also affecting business, he said.
‘We are also being hit by the home holiday market travelling abroad where there is great value, so we are seeing a squeeze on the regular Irish trade who maybe visited three or four times a year, only visiting one time,’ added Neil, who feels that everyone in the industry is in for a battle.
It is hoped that when Brexit is potentially sorted later this year, holiday makers will have more confidence to travel again.
In the meantime, West Cork tourism interests are looking to attract other overseas markets, other than just the UK, to survive and thrive.