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Uncertain times for tourism across Sligo area

Leading attraction Eagles Flying is in the red and needs some help but is back open

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Lothar Muschketat, of Eagles Flying, with a North American Bald Eagle

Lothar Muschketat, of Eagles Flying, with a North American Bald Eagle

Lothar Muschketat, of Eagles Flying, with a North American Bald Eagle

It's one of Sligo's most popular visitor attractions but like many in the sector it has been a difficult year and even more so for those who rely on international visitors to keep their business running.

For Ballymote based Eagles Flying, it's been incredibly tough. Having reopened on July 10th, lots of Irish based tourists have been visiting. But, the forecast for the next few months is not looking too good.

Lothar Muschketat, of Eagles Flying, says the income they receive each year is just about enough to cover the costs of the sanctuary.

Now that they have lost at least half of their income for the year, the next few months are uncertain.

"People are delighted that we're open, they're happy that they can go out and do something. Most people who came to us are repetitive business," Lothar told The Sligo Champion.

"It is slower than I anticipated because the word is not really out that we are open even though we do some publications on the internet.

"We lost roughly 50% of our annual turnover and 100% is just enough to survive usually so it is challenging. We will not catch up with our figures.

"The way it goes, we have no international tourism, by the end of August when people are back to work and when children are back to school, the numbers will drop dramatically to next to nothing I would say.

"Maybe at the weekends we will have some but at the weekends, I don't know. Irish tourists were our main business. About 70% of our visitors are Irish, but 30% is also money."

Eagles Flying close each year for the winter, and that in itself means the off season is tough financially.

With no financial assistance available from the government, Lothar says they were left eight months without any income, aside from an online fundraising campaign.

"For us it was even harder because we closed in November. That means we had eight months with no income and all the bills to pay.

"Even insurance, even though we didn't need them we had to pay all the money and that's why we are in the red now. We couldn't even get a loan.

"The government did not pay any grant money to businesses. We weren't able to get a loan because we are non-profit. We were left without any help."

Changes have had to be made to the daily shows at Eagles Flying due to the Covid-19 restrictions, but they can still go ahead.

"The most important one is that we cannot offer indoor shows. Generally, we would have indoor shows on rainy days, which cannot be done now due to the regulations.

"Our business actually focused on hands-on experience, where people can touch animals, birds, etc and have the snakes wrapped around them and they can feed the animals.

"The raccoon, I used to have the raccoons pick-pocketing people, I would put food in their pocket and she would pick the food out.

"That's not possible now. It's not a big, big thing. But it gets great feedback. If I tell people that we cannot do the same programme we usually do they say that it's fine and they are happy."

He's not giving up, but he is hopeful that there will be some sort of financial assistance from government as these difficult times continue.

"Never lose hope. But realistically we will have one more month of business. We might have people during the week.

"My hope is still that the government will eventually allocate funds for small and medium sized businesses who are nearly destroyed, that they can at least get a little bit of money that can help them survive.

"Just yesterday I spoke to a lady in Clare, who runs a bus company and she said she has no international business and most likely she will not survive. This will happen to many tourism related businesses in Ireland."

Sligo Champion