Monday 20 May 2019

'Will he, won't he saga' could cost us far more than the Gathering earned us

The Tourism cost

Eoghan Corry

For a genre which sings so much of heartbreak, there can be few country music songs with as broken a heart as that of Ireland's tourism industry this week.

Regardless of the eventual outcome, the country has effectively put up a "closed" sign for the multi-billion euro international concert business.

Figures were freely bandied around for the hit taken by Dublin businesses by the decision to cancel the Garth Brooks concerts. The estimated €50m in spend lost to the city is dwarfed by the lost expenditure by angry music fans.

But one figure really matters: more than 70,000 of the cancelled Garth Brooks tickets were sold off­island to IP addresses around the world.

The airfares and hotel rooms bought by these fans are non-refundable, lost in the squabbling and recriminations of the politics of the north inner city.

We will not know how much damage has been done to Ireland the brand. If you count the bookings that have vaporised, it will be much more than the entire bounty of €170m regenerated by the much-hyped year of the Gathering.

Will the Garth Brooks will-he-won't-he saga knock us off the international concert circuit? Can a really big star ever risk the prospect of going to a city where their concerts are cancelled five weeks before they take place?

Can we bid for a Rugby World Cup when the clawing hands held out at every turn for a payoff are endorsed by the city's legislators?

Dublin was handed an opportunity every other western city would have died for. Ireland's place on the concert circuit is a cherished thing. We have progressed far from the days when music fans were used to travelling to London to see their stars, when the highlight of the Irish concert scene was Rory Gallagher in a boxing stadium or Meat Loaf in the crumbling concrete debris of Dalymount.

Croke Park is special to Garth Brooks.

The classic 1997 video of his concert there has become mythologised in its own right, beloved by the fans and by the singer himself.

In the meantime everything has changed. And we have learned to take for granted our place on the international concert circuit.

In the competitive world of international tourism, that is always a mistake.

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