Staycations boost for the top attractions
Tills keep ringing as rise in Irish visitors helps sites, says Tom Prendeville
THE country's leading tourist attractions have bucked the financial trend and are drawing more visitors than ever before -- with a number putting part of their success down to the growth of the staycation.
The Guinness Storehouse and visitor centre pulled in 1,020,000 visitors in 2009, an increase on the previous year, when visitor numbers hit the million mark for the first time.
"It was a brilliant year; it surpassed the one million visitors we had in 2008. The UK market has gone downhill but continental Europe is now our main driver," explains Guinness Hop Store spokesman Mark McGovern.
"The secret of our success is that we reinvest a lot, so when you come back it is always fresh with new things. We keep it current and new and let people have fun."
The centre employs 120 staff at the height of the summer and 70 during the rest of the year, and is open seven days a week. The admission fee is €15, which includes a free pint of Guinness.
Dublin Zoo had a good 2009 as well and pulled in more money than the previous year. "We had over 900,000 visitors -- it was fantastic. It was a very good year and we were delighted. In spending terms it was more profitable than the previous year," explains Veronica Chrisp, head of marketing at the zoo.
"So far this year the numbers are looking very healthy. We also have a TV show called The Zoo on TV3 so we are hoping to top the million mark this year," says Veronica.
It was a similar story with Dublinia & The Viking World, which had a good year too even though it was closed for
part of last year while the facilities underwent a massive upgrade.
"Last year wasn't bad. The number of visitors did increase, although group bookings were slightly down," explains Mary Therese Byrne, marketing manager.
"We get about 120,000 visitors on average and it is steadily increasing every year. We have made a huge investment thanks to Failte Ireland and we are now planning a big relaunch. We now have a new entrance with a Viking ship, and other attractions too such as a wharf.
"One of the surprises is that a lot of visitors are now from Ireland, so maybe the staycation idea is working out."
According to Dublin Tourism, the National Museum, the National Gallery and Collins Barracks have also witnessed a big increase in visitor numbers.
Dublin Tourism accredits the success to the staycation, with a lot of people staying at home and seeing what is on their own doorstep.
"The variety of cultural experiences Dublin offers through its visitor attractions is astounding," explains a smiling Frank Magee, chief executive of Dublin Tourism. "People are increasingly aware of the treasures that lie on their own doorsteps.
"While overseas figures for visitors to Dublin in 2009 were down around 6 per cent on 2008, the domestic market is showing signs of resilience and is significantly up."
Ireland's first purpose-built tourist attraction was Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, Co Clare. Although the area suffered a series of dis appointments, with airlines pulling out of Shannon Airport, the Park has held its own and is developing a range of new ideas geared towards the home market.
"The Folk Park in Bunratty started out in the Sixties after the jet age took off and when the transatlantic airplanes didn't need to refuel at Shannon anymore," explains Nandi O'Sullivan of Shannon Development.
"The idea was to try and pull planes out of the sky and give people something to do and see.
"Presently we are developing the home market with special St Patrick's Day events, Halloween and the Christmas Santa Experience.
"Shannon Development has a range of castles and attractions. Clare Cycling is something we are very proud to be associated with; it has now been named in the top 10 super cycling routes in the world by the Lonely Planet 'Best In Travel' 2010 Guide," adds a proud Nandi.
Ireland attracts 102,000 cyclists a year. In response to this new market, €2m was invested in Shannon-side, developing tourism cycling trails and tracks.