Sunday 17 December 2017

Tourists flock to Louth in bumper growth

Dundalk Tourist Officer, Sinead Roche is delighted with the increase in visitors calling to the tourist office in Market Square
Dundalk Tourist Officer, Sinead Roche is delighted with the increase in visitors calling to the tourist office in Market Square

Olivia Ryan

Louth's tourism industry has seen bumper growth, with 85,000 more visitors making their way to the wee country every year since 2010, the Argus has learned.

Louth's vital role in the Ireland's Ancient East campaign has been a key part of that growth, and according to Dundalk Tourist officer Sinead Roche, the town's status as the last border hub on the east coast has proved a real attraction.

'We have definitely seen a real increase in the number of people calling into the tourism office, and there has been a huge rise in telephone and social media enquiries as well.'

'Primarily people want to know where they can stay in the Dundalk area, and the sights and attractions we have on offer. Fortunately we now have so much to offer visitors in this area that I can simply say 'what would you like to do during your stay here?'

From the opening of the new Scenic Carlingford ferry, which Sinead explains has led to a rush of enquiries at the tourist office, to the greenway at Carlingford, she highlighted a welcome boost to the county's tourism offering in recent years.

The latest CSO numbers on overseas visitors to Ireland have certainly backed up the tourist officer's optimism.

Louth TD Fergus O'Dowd TD released figures indicating County Louth has seen an increase in overseas visitor numbers of up to 85,000 since 2010, nearly doubling the figures from 2010.

'The first seven months of this year have seen over five and a half million visitors to our shores. Overall trips to Ireland were up 3.1% compared to the same period in 2016,' said the Louth TD.

''Indeed, these figures show that the number of North American and European visitors continues to surge ahead, despite a slight drop in numbers from the UK.'

He added 'Regionally, the numbers employed in tourism continue to grow with an increase of almost 7,000 in the border region since 2011. These jobs are vital to our economy and communities. We have seen a number of great successes in tourism over the last number of years with Ireland's Ancient East proving enormously successful here in our area.'

With tourism being hailed as a key driver in the economic recovery, both nationally and locally, Sinead adds that measures such as the retention of the 9% VAT rate on tourism services have been significant in helping our tourism sector weather the recession.

'We have seen a big increase in the number of French and German visitors to this area, with the numbers from Sweden and Italy up considerably as well.

One of the main attractions for this area is hill walking. There is such an incredible range of options in this cross border area, with the Cooley's and the Mournes.

Mention of the border brings her to the much debated 'Brexit', something which she says is still very uncertain.

'We are still in a position where no-one knows exactly how it is going to impact. But it is a fact that anywhere in the world where there has been restrictions placed on the movement of people has not been good.'

She pointed out how Dundalk has become a vital hub for accommodation providers, with many hotels, b&b's and guesthouses booked out at times.

The global phenomenon 'Air B'nB' has also begun making it's mark locally, which she adds only served to highlight the growth in demand for places to stay.

'There is a need for more accommodation in this area, and we are all looking forward to the new Imperial Hotel, and any developments at the former Fairways Hotel.'

The loss of the major conference facility at the Fairways has been notable, says Sinead.

'The reality is that business tourism is worth much more to the local economy than leisure tourism, so we need to tap into that growth area.'

The considerable growth in visitor numbers in Louth, and indeed across the country, has been against the odds, given the fall off of UK visitors as the sterling continues to weaken.

UK visitors have represented one of the largest tourist groups over the last few decades.

Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Brendan Griffin confirmed last week that moves were afoot to combat the falling numbers from Britain.

'I recently met with Tourism Ireland officials in London and explored options to make Ireland even more attractive to the potential UK visitor. The depreciation in Sterling is the major factor involved but economic developments within GB are also having an impact.

'Whilst both Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland are taking steps to assist the industry in this regard, a fundamental factor in continuing to attract British visitors at this stage is value for money. It is therefore important now more than ever that the industry retains its competitiveness.'

The Argus

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