“An accommodation deficit” in Co Clare is hindering the ability to maximise the amount of tourists staying overnight in the county.
Director of Service with Clare County Council, Leonard Cleary issued the warning at a recent meeting of the West Clare Municipal District. Cleary who heads up the Rural Development Directorate of the local authority which includes tourism was speaking in response to a motion from Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF) who requested “the exact wording of the changed access policy” for new coach tours at the Cliffs of Moher since the beginning of 2019.
Cleary stated that measures implemented in 2019 to do with visitor management, safety management and environmental management “yielded results” and led to “a positive effect”. Peak times at the Cliffs of Moher continue to be from 11am to 4pm between June and August accounting for 59 percent of the visitors, 29 percent descend on the attraction from 8am to 11am with 12 percent from 4pm to closing time.
In 2019, there was one day that the car park had to close for an hour due to packed crowds, this happened nineteen times in 2018 and on thirty six occasions in 2017.
A limit has been set on the number of coaches per time slot and advance group booking are two measures introduced to the Cliffs. Off-peak pricing and increased pricing for peak time for all customers came to being as did extended opening hours over the summer months plus greater marketing and an increase in digital activity.
As part of the licensing agreement, new coach providers must comply with Clare specific conditions such as staying overnight in the county, visiting another fee paying attraction and to conduct their visit outside of peak times. A pilot shuttle service, incentives for staff to carpool, traffic wardens on the R478, deliveries being carried out in off-peak times and an increased focus on the wider county tourism product was marketed on site were other new measures seen in 2019.
“There is an accommodation deficit in the county,” Cleary commented. “There is a shortage of bednights, I acknowledge the contribution of Air BnB but we are leaking visitors where there is a shortage of hotels. Our upcoming strategies are likely to point out that there is a major piece of work relating to hotels in the county”.
“We’ve been leaking to other counties for 30 years,” Cllr Murphy replied. He urged the Director to ensure all Clare specific conditions of the policy are fully implemented. “There’s a hotel empty it’s practically derelict in Kilkee, there is another hotel in Lahinch which is open for eight months of the year”. Cllr Gabriel Keating (FG) claimed “there are up to 1000 bednights in Lisdoonvarna from the Wild Atlantic Way”.
On the topic of bednights, Cllr Ian Lynch (IND) told the Council to act with caution. “I don’t think Clare County Council is set up to manage accommodation, if they were to assist people that’s well and good but we’re not in the business of running hotel businesses”. Cleary assured him, “Clare County Council isn’t planning to move into that service delivery. We will work with potential businesses through the planning process, it’s around facilitating rather than delivering”.
Leas-Cathaoirleach of the MD, Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG) pointed out “social enterprise economy is going to be coming down the road, it is a great opportunity to potentially look at and develop structure for them. The Council will never be a great hotelier but that doesn’t mean we can’t help through Rural Development & Economic Development Directorates to fund social enterprise”. Cllr Lynch said, “There is a vast difference in assisting and running, the Council is not designed to run”.
Cllr Murphy who is also a tourism consultant, flagged “The fastest and most effective way of transferring pounds, shillings and pence of the visitor is into the service accommodation industry”. “The Planning Department are pro hotel development, the Physical Development Directorate are pro hotel development, Clare County Council corporally is pro hotel investment and development into the county as part of the strategy,” Cleary outlined.
A suggestion was made by Cllr Garrihy to pitch to hotel developers to come into Clare, “aggressively going out there and selling the county”. “We should push the idea of green hotels. We could become the greenest county in Ireland for holiday making,” Cllr Roisin Garvey (GP) added. The meeting was told that the suggestions would be passed on to the Council’s tourism department.
Kilrush’s Cllr Lynch called for a West Clare marketing officer “be reinstated full time as per statutory right”. Cllr Garrihy was in agreement, “Marketing is what we need”. He recalled tributes made to the late Peter Considine and his role in bringing a group to Doonbeg in the site that is now the home of the Trump resort, “that was marketing done by a county councillor” and also Shannon Development’s input in the international marketing of the Spa Wells in the early noughties.