We're winning tourists back
Visitor numbers are up so far this year -- but the crucial UK market is still not back to what it was, writes Louise McBride
Ireland's tourist industry has been brought to its knees since the recession hit in 2008 -- yet if our top attractions are anything to go by, the industry has just turned a corner.
The number of tourists flocking to our visitor attractions plummeted between early 2008 and late 2010 -- but many of these attractions have seen visitor numbers jump by at least 10 per cent so far this year.
The iconic Cliffs of Moher have seen their visitor numbers increase by almost a fifth, while Dublin Zoo's visitors are up by almost a third.
This year's unseasonally sunny April must have played its part as did the absence of the ash cloud, which prevented many tourists from flying into Ireland in April 2010.
The recent visits of Queen Elizabeth and US President Barack Obama have also lured many tourists here -- in particular Americans, who largely steered clear of Ireland in 2009 and 2010.
We still don't appear to have won back the British tourists lost in recent years, however; and as this is our biggest market, it's something that must be addressed for tourism to get back on its feet.
"The indications for this year are that there will at last be some increase in our overseas numbers," said Shaun Quinn, chief executive of Failte Ireland. "Coupled with the fact that a third more Irish are indicating they will be holidaying at home this year, 2011 could be a great one for our top places and attractions."
CLIFFS OF MOHER
The Shannon region was one of the worst hit by the tourism downturn of the past few years, so it's no surprise that the numbers visiting the cliffs dived between 2008 and the end of 2010. Things, however, seem to be looking up.
"Overall visitor numbers to the Shannon region for the first four months of this year are up about 18 per cent on last year and the Cliffs of Moher's performance is slightly ahead of that figure," said Katherine Webster, director of the Cliffs of Moher visitor centre.
"We are noticing clear increases in the US and French markets. The late Easter break also saw a lot of Irish visitors to the cliffs. There's no sign as yet of any recovery in the British tourist market."
Kituba, the baby gorilla born in Dublin Zoo last March, has certainly wooed the crowds -- as have the baby rhino and giraffes born over the past seven months.
Last year, 963,053 visitors went to the zoo -- its highest footfall ever. Those record numbers have continued into this year. In the first four months of 2011, 311,731 visitors went to the zoo -- 31 per cent more than visited in the same months last year.
The new National Wax Museum, which opened in October 2009 and is home to wax models of the Simpsons, U2 and Thin Lizzy, had 160,000 visitors last year. Visitor numbers for this year are about 10 per cent ahead of last year, according to a spokeswoman.
ROCK OF CASHEL
People are flocking to the Rock since the visit of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh last month.
"Shortly before the royal visit, we were getting about 655 visitors a day," said Elaine Moriarty, supervisor with the Rock of Cashel. "The week after the visit, we got about 1,000 visitors a day. You'd only expect those kind of figures in June. A lot of the people coming are following the route of the Queen's visit."
In the first four months of this year, about 16 per cent more people visited the Rock than in the same months last year, according to Moriarty.
BOOK OF KELLS
"Since the Queen's visit, there has been an increase in inquiries from Britain and elsewhere," said a spokeswoman for Trinity College Dublin. "Quite a few Irish people have been coming and there is an increase in school visits already this month."
Last year, 469,674 people visited the Old Library and the Book of Kells -- a far cry from the tourist heydey of 2007 when almost 570,000 people came to see the manuscript. The number visiting in the first five months of this year, however, is already 12 per cent ahead of last year.
NATIONAL LEPRECHAUN MUSEUM
NEW (90,000 visitors)
Our crafty leprechauns and their precious crocks of gold have long captured the imagination of foreigners and Irish alike. Yet it was only in March 2010 that the first leprechaun museum opened in Ireland.
As well as telling the story of the leprechaun, the museum tells visitors about Cuchulain, the banshee and other major figures in Irish folklore.
It has attracted 90,000 visitors since it first opened and 30,000 of these came in the first five months of 2011.
Tom O'Rahilly, director of the museum, said: "I would expect visitor numbers to be up on last year."
The collapse of tourism in the Shannon region dampened the appetite for medieval banquets at Bunratty Castle but the banquets have started to regain their popularity over the past five months.
"Visitor numbers to the banquets at Bunratty are so far 10 per cent better than the same period in 2010," said John Ruddle, chief executive of Shannon Heritage.
"This is a very good start to the season. It is too early, however, to conclude that any real recovery is back in the tourism market.
"Visitors from Britain eased back considerably over the last four or five years and these numbers have not yet recovered," said Mr Ruddle.
Although Queen Elizabeth politely declined to drink a pint of the black stuff, the famous brew whetted the appetite of the 930,000 people who visited it in 2010.
As more than a million people visited the Storehouse in 2009, its visitor numbers dropped by 9 per cent in 2010.
However, there has been a pick-up in the first five months of this year, with 12 per cent more visiting the Storehouse.
A spokeswoman said: "In April and May of this year, the number of British visitors has increased and we have also seen an increase in US visitors. Last month, we received 20 per cent more American visitors than in May 2010."
NATIONAL MUSEUM (ARCHAEOLOGY)
Even the lure of the Cross of Cong, which was sent to the Museum of Country Life in Mayo last year and returned to Dublin late last month, was not enough to stop visitor numbers to the Mayo museum dipping by about 5 per cent this year.
The Country Life Museum, however, was the only one of the four national museums (there's also Archaeology, Natural History, and Decorative Arts and History) to see its visitor numbers fall in the first five months of this year.
The biggest jump in visitor numbers was in the National Archaeology Museum, which had 139,968 visitors in the first five months -- 17 per cent more than the same time last year.
"Visitors, in particular foreign visitors, come to the Archaeology Museum for the 'must-see' iconic artefacts, such as the Tara Brooch and the Ardagh Chalice," said Ann Daly, a spokeswoman for the National Museum.
VIKING SPLASH TOURS
It seems visitors can't get enough of dressing up as Viking warriors and driving into rivers. Viking Splash Tours said it carried 50 per cent more passengers in the first five months of this year than over the same period last year.
A spokeswoman for the company said: "This year, we have seen a noticeably higher number of foreign tourists taking our tour instead. A lot of these foreign visitors are from the US."
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