Uncertain future for tourism businesses
Kit Dunne of Wicklow Boat Charters believes the closure of the Grand as a hotel will have a detrimental impact on businesses associated with tourism.
Kit formed his chartered boat business in 2012 and has provided the Grand Hotel with business during that time, mostly from overseas anglers.
'One of the cruxes of a successful tourist town is the provision of a hotel. If these plans go ahead, we will have no hotel in Wicklow town, the county town, and we stand to lose a lot of tourism trade, revenue and jobs'.
Kit has invested €150,000 in two quality angling boats and approximately €5,000 per annum in promotions, sponsorship, PR and events.
He maintains: 'This is all irrelevant if I can't offer hotel accommodation in the town. What am I to offer overseas customers? A boat in Wicklow town and a hotel 15 miles away. This is not what attracts customers, in fact it puts them off, I know because I have booked many overseas trips of my own and convenience is key'.
Wicklow Boat Charters has been growing business-wise each year and Kit believes there has been a noticeable increase in tourism locally over the past few years, but feels strongly that this progress will be meaningless without a hotel in the town.
'In my first season I focussed heavily on the domestic angling market in Ireland, bringing guests from Sligo, Belfast and Cork to name a few. I then moved on to focus on the overseas market and have made repeat custom from the Netherlands, France, Germany and the UK, the US, Canada, Belgium, and more. In a single year, I put 160-plus bed spaces into the Grand Hotel through angling groups. This was still steadily growing.
'In fact I have made numerous inquiries and made several bookings at the hotel for 2019, what now? I estimate if these visitors were to spend €70 per day at the hotel alone, it would amount to €11,000 for the hotel alone.
He is calling on Wicklow's local representatives to take a stand on behalf of the county town.
'If you consider restaurants, bars, newsagents, taxis, cafés, bait, charters etc this is an estimated revenue of €21,000 to the local economy. This has been a great boost to local and Irish economy. We stand to lose most of this if these plans go ahead'.
'Simon Harris launched the new Tourism Strategy and Marketing Plan for Wicklow last week, alongside the new Wicklow Outdoors Brand, I wonder does Wicklow town feature in these plans at all? How can we promote Wicklow as a destination when we cant provide beds?' asked Kit.
Fred Verdier of Wicklow County Tourism has expressed his disappointment that the hotel will no longer be open to tourists, especially at a time when efforts to improve tourism numbers have been ongoing.
'Wicklow County Tourism is aware that the Department of Justice and Equality has reached an agreement with the Grand Hotel, for the hotel to be used as an accommodation for persons seeking international protection.
'While sympathetic to the plight of persons seeking international protection, Wicklow County Tourism is disappointed that the Grand Hotel will be unavailable for tourists, particularly given the hard work carried out by all involved in the tourism trade in the Wicklow area in recent years. For example, Local Links is about to launch a daily year round service from Wicklow town to Glendalough, the new cliff walk is close to completion and a feasibility study is underway in relation to the construction of a Greenway from Wicklow to Greystones'.
Dan Morley, chairman of the Wicklow Bay Sea Angling Club, said: 'How can we promote Wicklow town as an angling centre when it has no hotel'.