Tuesday 20 March 2018

Death of Dublin? 10 ways to save the city as a tourist destination

Rebooting the capital

O'Connell Street, Dublin. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
O'Connell Street, Dublin. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
A pint and a packet of crisps cost €8.75 at a Temple Bar pub this summer. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
The former City Arts Centre, City Quay, Dublin
Composite Image: Dublin City. Photo: Paul O'Connell / Getty
Georgian architecture on Eden Quay, Dublin
Capel Street: Is this Dublin's most surprising street?
The Guggenheim museum in Bilbao
Pictured launching the 10 Leap Family Card was Anne Graham, CEO of the National Transport Authority with Megan Cronin age 7 and Darragh McCormick age 7. Picture Jason Clarke.
O'Connell Street, Dublin. Photo: Deposit
Derelict buildings on Moss St., Dublin - just yards from the IFSC.
Green Bench Café, Dublin. Photo: Cathal Austin
A pint and a packet of crisps cost €8.75 at a Temple Bar pub this summer. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
A street sign outside The Berdard Shaw advertising Bodytonic's Beatyard festival. Photo: Bodytonic Facebook
Street art in Dublin. Photo: Fáilte Ireland
Derelict buildings on Moss Street, just yards from the IFSC.
Dublin: What can reboot the city as a tourist attraction?
Rue des Bouchers, Brussels. Photo: Arpad Benedek/Getty
Dublin's Spire and GPO. Photo: Deposit

Sasha Brady & Pól Ó Conghaile

Critics say Dublin is expensive, dirty and trading on former glories. What can be done to reboot it for a new generation?

Tourism is booming in Ireland, but Dublin is in danger.

The city clocked 4.5 million visitors last year. But prices are rising. There's a shortage of hotel rooms. Brexit has hit the spending power of our biggest visitor market.

Fáilte Ireland, Dublin City Council and others are working hard to develop the city and its brand, but there's a lack of investment in new visitor attractions, and decision makers don't always connect with a dynamic younger generation.

If Dublin stands still, similarly-sized (but cheaper) cities like Amsterdam, Valencia and Prague will storm ahead. Visitors will vote with their feet.

Here are ten suggestions for change.

1. Stop the rip-offs

A pint and a packet of crisps cost €8.75 at a Temple Bar pub this summer. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

A pub receipt from Temple Bar.

It's a free market, right?

Maybe. But a free market in which you can pay €7.25 for a bog standard pint of Heineken in a Temple Bar pub (above) doesn't exactly scream 'value'.

The same pint rises to €7.60 after 12am, staff confirmed. The Temple Bar did not respond to several messages and requests for a comment.

It's not alone. In 2013, another pub receipt showing Oliver St. John Gogarty's charging €7.15 for a pint went viral after it said customers "rarely complain".

A recent survey comparing the cost of food, drink and accommodation in European cities found Dublin to be more expensive than Oslo or Reykjavik.

For sustainable tourism, we need to stay competitive.

2. Get a night mayor

Composite Image: Dublin City. Photo: Paul O'Connell / Getty

Amsterdam and Paris have night mayors. What about Dublin?

Dublin has very different needs by day and night.

The capital is a buzzing after-dark, but can also be messy and dangerous, especially when clubs end at the same time and revellers spill out onto the streets.

Amsterdam, Zurich, Paris and Toulouse have all benefited from the services of a night mayor - a go-between who recognises that nightlife is important but must be balanced with the community's need for safety, peace and quiet.

Dublin DJ and event curator Niall Byrne (Nialler9) explains:

"Night-time culture is a neglected part of the city - often ignored, often misunderstood or only thought of in negative terms. A night mayor would act as a mediator between clubs, venues and council, understanding both sides.

"He or she could also highlight the value of nightlife economy and oversee strategy, i.e. closing times, late licensing in certain areas, city patrols, tourist information volunteers with a knowledge of nightlife, increasing night safety, spotting trends and opportunities to grow creatively and economically."

Dublin City Council is considering a night mayor. Could it be fast-tracked?

3. Go North

Capel Street: Is this Dublin's most surprising street?

Capel Street - Dublin's most surprising street?

A great Dublin needs a great northside.

Arguably, it already has one - with highlights ranging from Croke Park to Chapter One, Glasnevin Cemetery to Georgian set-pieces like Henrietta Street. But there has been a singular failure to inspire visitors (not to mind locals) to give it a go.

Heck, if people won’t even make the 50m trek from Temple Bar to Capel Street, one of the city’s most exciting strips, what hope is there for Phibsborough or Stoneybatter?

The Dublin Northside Attractions Alliance is a major step forward, and the Victorian fruit and vegetable market could turn into a real catalyst for change (Dublin City Council aspires to have a redeveloped facility open by 2018).

But key northside streets need more grassroots investment.

What about start-up grants to give cafés, restaurants and other businesses the confidence to move north, drawing some of the footfall and momentum?

Think of it as Europe's hippest 'hood, just waiting to happen.

4. Build something brilliant

The Guggenheim museum in Bilbao

The Guggenheim Effect in Bilbao.

The Guggenheim in Bilbao (above) turned around a down-at-heel industrial city, creating a 'Guggenheim effect' that is felt to this day.

Dublin has a new brand ('Dublin - A Breath of Fresh Air'), decades of visitor goodwill and an engaged tourism bureau (Visit Dublin), but it hasn't unveiled a genuinely inspiring, ambitiously-scaled, world-class capital project in years.

Sure, EPIC Ireland (see inside here) and GPO Witness History are welcome new openings, but they are subtler, softer additions to the cityscape.

Imagine a bold, brilliantly designed gallery or museum that would put the city on front covers of magazines all over the world. Picture a legacy building, like Titanic Belfast or Eli & Edythe Broad's contemporary art museum in Downtown LA.

Of course, the process and spend would be divisive (Dubliners wouldn't have it any other way). But the results could be epic.

5. Add more pedestrianised zones

Rue des Bouchers, Brussels. Photo: Arpad Benedek/Getty

Rue des Bouchers, Brussels: Could this be South William Street?

Dublin lacks the plazas and piazzas of many European cities - open spaces that come alive at night, with summer crowds or Christmas markets.

But what about after-hours pedestrianised zones? Couldn't areas like the Creative Quarter (Drury Street, Exchequer Street, South William Street and Wicklow Street) or Capel Street could be closed off to motorists after, say, 7pm?

At night, these places could pulsate with markets, street food, entertainers, live music and pop-up bars. Sure, we don't have a Mediterranean climate - but awnings and outdoor heaters could protect punters from the rain and cold.

It can be done. Last year, a swathe of Brussels city centre was closed permanently to traffic, creating Europe's largest urban pedestrian area after Venice.

A new wave of no-car zones would offer something for all ages.

6. Make food the new drink

Sandwich 1 Green Bench.jpg
Green Bench Café, Dublin. Photo: Cathal Austin

Great sandwiches at the Green Bench Café.

Once upon a time, Lima was a city people bypassed. Today, it's one of the world's most exciting cities, with three eateries in the World's Top 50 restaurants.

The reason? Food.

Dublin can be the next Lima. Irish produce and chefs are that good.

Sure, price can be a problem, the city lacks a cracking street food scene, and it's still as easy to find a bad meal as a good one. But Dublin can be Europe's next hot food city - it just needs belief, and a marketing budget to shout it from the rooftops.

Alcohol offers brilliant images of Ireland, but also a host of embarrassing stereotypes. It's time for Dublin's grub to take its place alongside the pubs.

Read more: 10 Best Sandwiches in Dublin

7. Join up public transport

€10 Leap Family Card 3.jpg
Pictured launching the 10 Leap Family Card was Anne Graham, CEO of the National Transport Authority with Megan Cronin age 7 and Darragh McCormick age 7. Picture Jason Clarke.

There's a family Leap Card. But what can tourists buy online?

Picture a visitor trying to figure out Dublin's public transport.

How do the city's bus, DART and Luas services join up? Dublin has no airport rail link (Metro North? 2026, at the earliest), and that's not even starting on cycle lanes.

A tourist version of the Leap Card (the city's integrated transport ticket) exists, but can't be bought online - unlike London's Oyster Card, for example.

Dublin needs a card that can be downloaded to mobile devices (Copenhagen's Citypass can be sent direct to mobile), and can be easily topped up without having to visit vending machines or specific physical locations.

Younger visitors expect it. Let's just do it.

8. It's the youth, stupid

A street sign outside The Berdard Shaw advertising Bodytonic's Beatyard festival. Photo: Bodytonic Facebook

A street sign outside The Bernard Shaw for Bodytonic's Beatyard festival.

There's more to Dublin than U2, trad music and the Book of Kells.

Right now, the city's cultural scene is being transformed by collectives and artists' groups, by young people doing things differently.

Independent music promoters and bloggers like Choice Cuts, Bodytonic, Happenings, Homebeat, Nialler9, GoldenPlec and more have filled the cultural vacuum created by recession, breathing life into Dublin through niche events, festivals and gigs.

The excitement and energy is palpable. So why aren't most visitors (and even locals) aware of our multi-layered offerings? And what can we do to change that?

We need to amplify the voice of Dublin culture, and raise awareness of more authentic and lesser-known places through local and international media. We need to tell fresh stories and put culture centre stage.

Juxtaposing the old and new could be a big selling point to tourists who are looking for more than just tick-the-box attractions. It would be fun, too.

9. Fix the streets

The former City Arts Centre, City Quay, Dublin

City Quay: The view just a few hundred yards from O'Connell Bridge.

Cities like Berlin, London, Madrid and New York are famed for their creative communal spaces; off the beaten track venues that act as cultural complexes.

In Dublin, most of these places have disappeared.

Since July 2014, eight studios and/or art spaces have closed in the city, including Block T, Mabos Project, Bio Space, Broadstone Studios, The Joinery, Market Studios and Basic Space Moxie Studios. The Iveagh Market is derelict since the mid-90s.

Can abandoned eyesores be developed for local communities and tourism?

Derelict buildings on Moss St., Dublin - just yards from the IFSC.

Victorian flats on Moss Street, in Dublin's City Centre.

Sure, vacant lots can be legal minefields. But short-term projects like the Dominick Street pop-up park or long-term developments like a buzzing Epicurean Food Hall - along the lines of the Mercado de Ribeira in Lisbon - are needed.

Street art could also radically transform the appearance of the city's derelict spaces with adventurous design and powerful social commentary.

Dublin needs to introduce a more intelligent, forward-thinking way of viewing the city. It should be cultural hub, not just a commodity.

10. Think beyond hotels

A 'punk bunk' at Dublin's Dean Hotel.

Punk bunks at The Dean.

Dublin has a hotel shortage. In the last five years, according to a recent Fáilte Ireland report, tourist arrivals grew 33pc, but hotel space fell 6pc.

If nothing is done, the city faces a shortage of 5,500 rooms by 2020.

Building new hotels is one solution, but it's time to think outside the box. Pop-up hotels. B&B and guesthouse reboots. Luxury hostels. Smaller rooms (see The Dean's 'Punk Bunks', above). The fast-tracked transformation of existing buildings. A concerted decision to either work with, or against, Airbnb.

The last thing we need is for room rates to rise even further, earning Dublin a San Francisco-style reputation as one of Europe's most expensive cities.

"Dublin is in danger of standing still," according to Destination Dublin - A Collective Strategy for Tourism Growth to 2020, a 2014 report published by the Grow Dublin Taskforce. Its brand, Fáilte Ireland has noted, is “a bit stale”.

Here's another opportunity to change that.

Agree or disagree with our suggestions? Let us know! Post your comments below, email travel@independent.ie or get in touch on Facebook here.

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