Saturday 25 May 2019

Ireland's tourism sites 'stuck in 19th century' despite booming visitor numbers

  • Workers claim lack of investment in technology at OPW sites
  • Say coach-loads of tourists have no available parking
  • Describe how there are not enough toilet facilities at sites for tourists
The Irish flag flies in the Kilmainham Jail yard, where some of the 1916 leaders were executed.
The Irish flag flies in the Kilmainham Jail yard, where some of the 1916 leaders were executed.
Denise Calnan

Denise Calnan

Ireland’s tourism trade is booming, but some of its biggest tourism sites are “stuck in the 19th century”, according to workers.

A lack of investment in technology, no available parking for coaches and not enough toilet facilities for visitors at sites were among the concerns raised.

One member of Office of Public Works (OPW) staff, who is working at one of the country’s biggest tourism sites, told how coach-loads of tourists arrive at the site, only to be told there is no available parking nearby and there are only a limited number of toilets available for use.

"You’ve to tell tourists travelling from all over the world to our site that they can’t book online, that they’ve to pay in cash at the desk. Loads of sites don’t have credit cards," they said.

"It’s the 21st century and you’re walking into a busy tourism site, you’d expect they’d take more than cash.

"Bus-loads of tourists arrive and then queueing for ages outside the bathrooms because there are not enough."

The staff member said the OPW Visitor Services department "really needs a shake-up and a modern attitude."

"It’s not getting better, it’s just getting worse," they continued.

"There is a culture of just maintaining the status quo, don’t change anything, don’t invest, don’t move forward, don’t engage with technology, don’t do anything controversial.

"We just do the same things we do every year, heaven forbid we’d offend someone.

"The social media is atrocious. Some sites have their own Facebook pages but they’re not always updated. The Twitter account has updates on drainage. They should be good accounts like the Garda Traffic account, that’s how they should be doing it.

"They’re just stuck in the 19th century."

The staff member also claimed staffing levels have not been restored to pre-recession levels, despite booming tourism numbers.

"They have cut back on the staff figures, but look at the visitor numbers.

"There is a huge amount of waste in the organisation.

"There is no investment in staff, no personnel investment and a lack of investment at the sites," they said.

Tourism Ireland reported a 3pc growth of 107,800 additional overseas visitors between January and May of this year. These figures, reported in June, follow a record performance in 2016. May 2017 was also Ireland’s best-ever May for tourism, with a 23.6pc increase on visitors from North America.

OPW Heritage Services, which includes the National Monuments Service, Historic Properties Service and Visitor Services, is tasked with conserving and promoting Ireland’s heritage sites to tourists.

A spokesperson for the group told that guide numbers at OPW Heritage sites have in fact increased since 2008 when there were 80 permanent guides and 348 seasonal guides. 

"Currently there are 100 permanent guides and 426 seasonal guides. This increase in guide numbers reflects the growth in visitor numbers from 2,233,824 in 2008 to 6,634,539 in 2016," the spokesperson said.

The group also said it is true that some of the smaller sites do not have credit card facilities yet, but in some cases, the visitor numbers "are so low it is difficult to justify the costs associated with the provision of credit card facilities." 

They continued; "However, the OPW is expanding the number of sites which will offer such facilities. 

"For example, the OPW is actively engaged in developing credit card facilities for Dún Aonghasa, Swiss Cottage and Cahir Castle and these facilities will be rolled out to other sites on a phased basis. 

"Sites will be prioritised based on visitor numbers and rurality."

They also disputed claims that some sites are still using a dial-up service for internet and added; "At a minimum, sites have access to the Vodafone network either via a 3G/4G dongle, a Vodafone hotspot or a Cradlepoint router. 

"There are also various Heritage sites now currently availing of fixed line broadband services from Eir plus some are also using wireless Radio connections to the OPW network.

"In terms of the Vodafone services, the speeds can vary depending on the geographical restrictions in the particular area and the nature of the site where there are legal restrictions in relation to mounting antennas etc. on National Monuments."

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