While our proximity to Shannon Airport and Ireland West Airport Knock are often cited as attributing to the demise of Galway Airport, they could prove key in reviving UK travellers’ interest in the city, according to Fáilte Ireland West’s Head of Operations, Fiona Monaghan.
There has been a drop in visitors from the UK, Ireland’s largest market, over the past decade and the decline is continuing. The latest figures show that 959,000 overseas visitors spent time in Galway in 2011, generating €323 million in revenue. These included 131,000 from the UK, 472,000 from mainland Europe, and 281,000 from North America.
But, while Galway hasn’t been as impacted by the decline in UK business as Dublin and the east coast, where visitors flew in for short breaks or weekends, the tourism, hospitality and retail sectors across the board have all clearly suffered since the downturn and Fáilte Ireland is now focusing on growing overseas visitor numbers.
“Throughout the noughties and in good times or during the Celtic Tiger, the Irish market grew until it nearly doubled in size with individuals having a lot more disposable income and taking a lot more short breaks and, during this time, our international visitors were declining but the gap had been made up by the Irish visitors and wasn’t as evident until the crash came in 2008/2009,” explains Ms Monaghan.
She adds that the drop in the number of visitors from UK market had been happening gradually since 2001. “Even though North America and mainland Europe have picked up significantly in the last number of years, they haven’t picked up to the extent to make up for the gap that the UK market created.” Figures for North America are up 16 per cent to the end of April this year and France and Germany are also performing very well.
In a bid to address the drop, the tourism development authority has undertaken a review of the UK market, ‘GB Path to Growth’, and identified segments of the market most likely to come to Ireland in the short to medium term.
These include the ‘Culturally Curious’, those aged over 45 interested in cultural activities and sightseeing, ‘Great Escapers’, who tend to be aged between 30 and 45 and travel with or without children to places off the beaten track like Connemara, and ‘Social Energisers’, those aged 21-35 looking for high energy short breaks and good nightlife.
“They want to go home having had a good time,” says Ms Monaghan of ‘Social Energisers’.
“It’s still a challenge, they’re still as economically challenged as we are, people have less disposable income so it is a big challenge but it is one that provides an opportunity for us now that we know the exact segments to be targeting.”
Ms Monaghan also believes that Galway has “really improved” in terms of providing value for money in recent years. “Back in 2008/2009, value for money was a serious challenge for us. The big challenge was, especially in the UK market, that we weren’t seen as being different enough – we speak English, our weather’s pretty similar…they didn’t see anything compelling enough to come now.”
She is hopeful however that the new strategy marketing Ireland to the UK market, which will see potential visitors targeted through social media and other outlets, will prove popular and see more visitors come to our shores in the second half of this year and beyond.
Another initiative that Fáilte Ireland is hopeful will attract visitors to Ireland is the Wild Atlantic Way, a 2,500km touring route from Donegal to West Cork incorporating Galway. The project will be the longest defined coastal touring route in the world and Ms Monaghan says it aims to position the “west coast as a tourism proposition to put in the international shop window”.
Combining coastal drives and cultural attractions, it is hoped the route will attract road travellers such as motor home owners, landscape experience seekers, outdoor activity seekers, and culture and heritage experience seekers.
Galway City is largest urban centre on the route and Ms Monaghan feels it is a “huge opportunity” for Galway, given that it is midway along the route, which will encourage travellers to take part in water and land-based activities along the way, and immerse themselves in our language, music, song and food.
Route signage will be in place by the end of March or early April 2014, with Ms Monaghanacknowledging that good road surfaces are key to the route’s success. She stresses the tourists are already travelling roads on the route and that the project is being developed in conjunction with local authorities and the National Roads Authority, with any gaps or challenges in road surfaces “top of their agenda”.