Wild Atlantic Way blows in benefits

Initiatives like the Wild Atlantic Way that specifically aim to draw tourists to the west coast of Ireland have created “brilliant opportunities for businesses in the area” according to Mayo VFI Chairman Alan Gielty of Gielty's Clew Bay Dooagh who was discussing the impact of the Wild Atlantic Way for small business owners in the West at yesterday’s working lunch discussion among members of the hospitality and tourism industry.

“We’re located directly on the route of the Wild Atlantic Way and already we’ve seen a huge uplift in our business directly attributable to the project,” he told those attending, “I think the Wild Atlantic Way shows that there are clear opportunities for pubs and other businesses within the drinks and hospitality sector to work with Government agencies and make Ireland a great place to enjoy the scenery as well as the entertainment, food and craic of a real Irish pub.”

He also discussed the growing interest in Irish Whiskey, explaining that, “With a boost in tourism, we’re also trying to meet the needs of tourists in the form of food and entertainment. There’s been a growing interest in Irish whiskey and craft spirits in recent years. We’re the only pub in the area with a whiskey and gin bar at the moment and visitors love it.”

Indeed Irish whiskey tourism, the Wild Atlantic Way and alcohol tax were among the topics discussed by some of Ireland’s leading tourism stakeholders at yesterday’s roundtable discussion.

The day’s theme was ‘Opening Ours: Evolving Ireland’s Drinks and Hospitality Industry to improve our Tourist Offer’

Other speakers at the discussion included Ray Dempsey, General Manager at the Old Jameson Distillery; Paul Keeley, Director of Business Development at Fáilte Ireland; General Manager at Buswells Hotel, Dublin as well as ITIC Chairman and Past President of the Irish Hotels Federation Paul Gallagher; Restaurants Association of Ireland President Anthony Gray, owner of Trá Bán in Strandhill and Eala Bhán in Sligo Town and Destination Expert for Ireland at Trip Advisor Bryan Conlon.

Bryan discussed the growth of Irish whiskey tourism, with 26 new or proposed distilleries across the country, stating that, “It has been my experience that overseas visitors absolutely love our whiskey industry even though many of them know very little about the detail of it.

“The bonus is that they also learn to love what is tacked onto that industry when they get here: our friendliness, generosity, sense of fun, not to mention the staggering beauty of our numerous wild beauty spots.  They talk about it glowingly all the time.  It makes me so proud of my country when they do.”

Paul Keeley, Director Business Development with Fáilte Ireland, believes that 2015 is shaping up to be a record year for Irish tourism with “in the region of 7.7 million overseas visitors and a domestic market which is also performing strongly as consumer confidence recovers.

“This growth has been helped by a much sharper tourism focus on knowing what our customers want and how to get the message to them,” he stated, “Most importantly, tourism growth will be sustained – and reach 10 million visitors a year by 2025 – by having a number of attractive ideas of scale such as the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’, ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’ and a rejuvenated Dublin brand that connects strongly with consumers.

“We need everybody in the sector working together to make these attractions work. Pubs and the Irish drink sector have a role to play here to make the visitor experiences on the ground authentic, compelling and memorable”.

He added that Fáilte Ireland’s teams around the country were already working with pubs and others in the hospitality sector to animate attractions such as the Wild Atlantic way at local level and he looked forward very much to working with more and more members of the industry for the benefit of tourism.

Ray Dempsey, General Manager of the Old Jameson Distillery, pointed out that Irish whiskey tourism is an integral part of Ireland’s tourism offering.

“Our Jameson brand homes in Smithfield and Midleton welcomed over 410,000 tourists last year,” he said, “Ireland is the ultimate shop window for our brands – it’s the home of Irish whiskey and it’s incredibly important that we keep Ireland at the heart of everything we do. Tourists come here to have an authentic, Irish experience and Irish whiskey is a key feature of that.

“From our perspective, Government and its agencies have an integral part to play in developing Irish whiskey tourism. The 30-plus new distilleries are going to need a lot of support as they get their projects up and running and our advice to Government would be to remove any unnecessary barriers that are going to slow down these projects.

“One of the major barriers that the whole industry experiences is that of the extremely high excise taxes that government charges on spirits in Ireland.

“Irish consumers and tourists visiting Ireland pay the third-highest excise taxes in Europe. This means that a tourist visiting from New York could buy almost two bottles of Jameson in New York for the price of one in Ireland,” he stated, indicating that a litre bottle of Jameson costs €41.68 here whereas in the US it costs €27 and in Germany, €25.10.

“We regularly receive queries from visitors wondering why it’s so expensive to buy Jameson here. In our view, this is the number one threat to the future of Irish whiskey tourism.”

At the event a new report by economist Tony Foley, commissioned on behalf of the Support Your Local campaign (who hosted the discussion) was launched.

The DIGI report, The Contribution of the Drinks Industry to Tourism, notes that the tourism sector supported 137,500 jobs in 2014 in the accommodation and food sectors and overall tourism employment was about 200,000 persons.

In 2014, foreign tourist expenditure was €3.548 billion and the report concludes that the drinks industry makes a major contribution to domestic and international tourism with overseas visitors spending 21% of their holiday expenditure on food and drink.

Ireland’s world-renowned pubs are one of our top tourist draws, said Tony Foley, speaking at the discussion, with many offering food and entertainment specifically for tourists.

“The regional spread of the hospitality sector, with 7,457 pubs across the country, also supports the geographic spread of tourism,” he said.

And the report notes that the drinks industry has the potential to make a strong contribution to the success of the Wild Atlantic Way project.

“The drinks industry is also responsible for the direct provision of major visitor attractions like the Guinness Storehouse, Ireland’s Number One visitor attraction, which attracted 1,269,371 visitors in 2014, IDL’s Old Jameson Distillery and Jameson Experience Midleton, which attracted 410,000 visitors between them and newer developments like the Kilbeggan Distillery and Tullamore Dew Visitor Centre offering attractions outside Dublin.”

The discussion was held in the Old Jameson Distillery in Smithfield.


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