Pól Ó Conghaile: 2015 a record year for tourism, but beware the return of Rip-off Ireland
2015 has been confirmed as a record year for Irish tourism - but where do we go from here, asks Pól Ó Conghaile.
Well, now we know.
2015 has been a knockout year for Irish tourism. Holiday visits were up 19pc for the first nine months. Dublin Airport clocked its highest-ever passenger numbers. Latest CSO data showed just over eight million visitors by December, and Tourism Ireland says they will have spent around €4.2bn by year's end.
Many factors combined to bring Ireland back from the brink.
The recovering economy and weak euro are huge drivers, but so too were initiatives like The Wild Atlantic Way and Global Greening.
Lonely Planet named Ireland one of its Top 10 countries to visit this year, and a rash of new routes made our airports more connected than ever.
Most of all, however, it has been the frontliners themselves - the owners and staff who took huge haircuts yet hung in there to reboot a céad míle fáilte eaten alive by the Celtic Tiger. They deserve a clap on the back.
2016 could be bigger again, despite the worldwide travel warning recently issued by the US. Tourism Ireland expects 8.2 million visitors, Ireland's Ancient East is taking shape, and even the long-suffering Cork Airport is predicting growth. This matters, not least because tourism employs an estimated 185,000 people in this country.
A warning, however. As things improve, have you sensed prices rising? Are standards rising with them? I'm not so sure. The pent-up urge to recoup the recession is understandable, but if Rip-off Ireland returns, once-bitten visitors (not to mention locals) will vote with their feet. There are plenty of other countries to visit.
Good times cannot be taken for granted.
The weather has hurled Athlone onto the news pages this month, but it's worth remembering how overlooked the midlands can be from a travel perspective.
Set in the heart of Ireland, the town is a great base to explore places like Clonmacnoise, Uisneach, Lough Boora Discovery Park and the 40km Old Rail Trail to Mullingar.
The Fatted Calf restaurant has relocated from Glasson, the castle is an underrated heritage gem, and the Radisson, Sheraton and Athlone Springs all do decent deals.
2016, anyone? See athlone.ie for more.
Did you know Adare Manor (adaremanor.com) is closing for 18 months? The five-star resort, which JP McManus and family acquired for a reported €30m earlier this year, is closing January 21 for an extensive refurbishment which, subject to planning, will add 40 rooms, a new ballroom and a swathe of other improvements. A Grand Finale package is running midweek to January 14, bundling B&B, a candlelit dinner for two and a complimentary upgrade to a deluxe room from €270 per night.
NB: Prices subject to availability.