THE IRISH TOURISM businesses have borne the brunt of much of the recession, with hard-pressed consumers holding off on spending and holidays, even within the country.
Figures from the CSO show that SMEs in the South-East, a region which has traditionally been popular with Irish holidaymakers, are facing a particularly pressing challenge.
The scale of the problem can be seen in the diminishing Irish tourist spend in the region, which has dropped by €62 million since 2009.
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The number of trips to the South-East by Irish residents on domestic travel dropped by 179,000, and the cumulative number of nights spent in the region is down by 447,000.
The area is also home to some of the most economically depressed parts of the country, including the town of Bunclody, Co. Wexford.
Barbara Ann-Murphy, Fianna Fáil Councillor for Bunclody said: “We have suffered hugely from emigration in this area and we are trying to rebuild. Many people in this area would have been dependent on construction, and that’s all gone.”
I was the chairperson of the GAA club in 2010. Then we were able to put out five men’s teams. Now we are lucky if we have two. The guys of playing age, so many of them are gone.
She said that a better job could be done of promoting the county:
Marketing is a huge thing. I don’t think Fáilte Ireland know that we’re here.
“We have so many attractions here. From the Blackstairs Mountains to Enniscorthy Castle. I would say we’re the best kept secret in the world.”
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But is there a way back?
There may be light at the end of the tunnel, however.
Waterford Chamber of Commerce chief executive Nick Donnelly said that there has been a pick up in tourist activity so far this year.
There is a sense that inbound activity is better
However, he warned that the job is not finished, and said all stakeholders have to stick together to lock in the recovery.
The most important thing is there is a coherent message that goes out about the South-East, both nationally and internationally
Keeping a lid on costs is vital, he argued.
“The hospitality sector still want to keep labour costs under control, the retention of the 9% VAT rate in the hospitality sector is seen as crucial. This is a big issue for the government with the budget in 2015.”
In May, the sixty-room Millrace Hotel was sold for €950,000 to an overseas investor.
The new manager of the hotel, Neil McGettigan, said: “I feel we have the USP of being an outdoor area. We have only been here a short time but we feel the town has great scope.”
People are excited about someone with experience coming on board with the hotel. If the hotel is busy it means that smaller businesses likes shops and hotels in the area will be busy.
His optimism is shared by Failte Ireland spokesperson Lousie Tolerton said: “Everybody accepts that the domestic tourism market operated in a challenging environment during the recession with fewer people taking trips.”
“However, the home holiday market has been on the up for almost two years at this stage. After a difficult few years from 2008-2012, we experienced a welcome return to growth for tourism domestically.”