Category Archives: Scenery

The agency model

I have been told that, until recent years, travel agents in Germany and elsewhere would buy packages of weeks on Irish hire-boatsa and then sell them on to their own clients. I have also been told that this “agency model” ceased to be used [or became less used], perhaps because of the growth of internet booking. And it has been suggested that this was one of the factors in the decline of the Shannon hire-boat trade, to which I have repeatedly drawn attention [most recently here].

I do not know whether this phenomenon has been documented or formally studied. If it has, I would be grateful if any reader can point me to the documents or studies. I would also welcome other Comments on the proposition.

Packaging and marketing

I mention it now because, when launching the Shannon Blueway project, the waterways minister Heather Humphreys said:

The launch of the Blueway will allow local businesses [to] capitalise on an increase in demand for transport, equipment hire, accommodation and entertainment.

I think that the Blueway is an excellent idea, but I am concerned about whether small local companies will be able to package and market it effectively to overseas tourists. If the long-established cruiser-hire-firms were or are finding effective marketing difficult, why would (say) a canoe- or bicycle-hire-firm in Drumshanbo find it any easier?

Marketing to anglers

There was an interesting discussion at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications about “Depletion of Inland Fish Stocks and Impact of Estuary Poaching: Inland Fisheries Ireland” on 22 October 2014. Note in particular the contributions of Dr Ciaran Byrne from 10:25 onwards about how Inland Fisheries Ireland markets Irish angling to overseas anglers.

What struck me was not that IFI uses any particularly magical marketing methods but that it is dealing with a well-defined interest group: people who are committed to a particular activity and have invested heavily in it (buying rods and stools and nets and umbrellas and maggots and whatever else anglers use).

Identifying potential customers

Anglers form one segment of the market for inland waterways holidays, but the task of selling to other segments is harder if they lack a single compelling interest. Hence, no doubt, those rather demented attempts by Fáilte Ireland or Tourism Ireland to categorise potential customers as ‘Sightseers and Culture Seekers’, ‘Family & Loved Ones’, ‘Relaxers’ and ‘Outdoor Actives’. None of their interests strikes me as being exactly compelling: there are several countries where you can relax, engage in outdoor activities or look at sights.

What you really need is obsessive customers: folk, with money to spare, who are really interested in one thing. Then you entice them to your area and take their money from them: not, as Brian Ború would have done, by hitting them over the head and stealing it, but by selling them overpriced goods and services.

Lough Derg

If you don’t have obsessive customers, who are compelled by their inner urges to dangle maggots in your waters (or whatever else turns them on), then you might try offering a compelling attraction: something that is so interesting that folk put it on their to-do lists. Unfortunately, as Fáilte Ireland’s Lakelands Lough Derg Roadmap [PDF, 6.7MB; well worth reading] admits,

Lough Derg does not have suffient key attractions that act as a draw to the area.

The same thought has often struck me. As you drive around the lake, you see signs pointing towards it. But suppose you’re a casual tourist who hasn’t already booked an activity. When you get to the lake, about the only thing you can do is look at the water (which becomes less interesting after a while) or at the jolly people enjoying themselves on boats (ditto).

You can, in some places, go to a pub or eatery, but you don’t need to come to Ireland to do that. Or you can paddle. If you fish, you can fish, but I’m trying to think of things for non-anglers. In Killaloe, you can take a boat trip; in Dromineer, you can hire a sailing boat; in Mountshannon, you can visit Holy Island. But there is nothing you would come to Ireland for: nothing you can’t do in other places.

Roadmap remedies

The Roadmap proposes these remedies:

The following three key tourism products are proposed:

  • A Discovery Point and Trailhead at the Portroe lookout
  • A Lough Derg Canoe/Kayak trail
  • An enhanced offering and facilities at University of Limerick Activities Centre (ULAC).

Two additional tourism products are proposed:

  • Portumna eco-park (masterplanning required)
  • Publications to promote and support active enjoyment of Lough Derg and surrounds.

There is, alas, another set of categories of potential visitors:

The three market segments identified with the best potential for delivering international visitors to Lough Derg have been identified as Curiously Cultural, Great Escapers and Nature Lovers.

Other, less exploitable, market segments are identified too, but I can’t bring myself even to name them.

Finding the punters

I’d hate it to be thought that I was a marketing expert, but it seems to me that this segmentalisation is coming at things from the wrong end. In effect, it’s saying “We have these things; what sort of person might be induced to buy them?” Then you give each of those sorts of person a category and say that you’ve found your market.

But compare that with what the fisheries folk do. They can identify magazines that anglers read, maybe (for aught I know) television programmes they watch, trade shows they visit. Identification is easy: the titles will include words like “fishing” or “angling”.

But what magazines — other than those on the top shelf — have “Curiously Cultural” or “Nature Lovers” in the title? How do you track down “Great Escapers”? It seems to me that these categories might help you to tailor a message that is broadcast to large audiences through mass media: in such cases it doesn’t matter if you appeal to only 1% of the audience, provided that that audience is large enough. However, that’s not an option available to those with small budgets: they need cheaper marketing through channels that will provide much higher returns.

Small operators

And that’s where we come back to the fact that most of the potential tourism operators around Lough Derg are pretty small. Who is going to put together packages of activities that will appeal to the curiously cultural? I’m interested only in filling my B&B and you’re interested in hiring out bicycles. I’m happy to refer customers to you and vice versa, but are we going to get together to provide packages and to share our marketing budgets? There is a Lough Derg Marketing and Strategy Group, but it seems to be dominated by representatives of public sector bodies, and there is a limit to what they can do.

To compete on a European scale, what’s really needed is a large commercial organisation. I suggest, therefore, that the best thing to do would be to get Goldman Sachs to advise on how Lough Derg might be privatised.

Second-best would be the formation of a tourism cooperative.

 

 

 

 

 

 

St John’s Pill: an update

I have found a little more information about the involvement of George Lane Fox with the upper reaches of St John’s Pill; I have written about it here.

Barrow Line meets Barrow Navigation

Seen from the air, 1947. Several of Limerick too. What’s the boat at bottom left in this pic of Athlone? A search for “Ireland” gives 2642 results, which is more than I can go through. If you find anything interesting, I’d welcome a link, which I’ll add here.

Shannon traffic figures to August 2014

I am grateful to Waterways Ireland for letting me have the Shannon traffic figures for August 2014.

Regular readers may wish to skip this section

All the usual caveats apply:

  • the underlying figures do not record total waterways usage (even for the Shannon) as, for instance, sailing, fishing or waterskiing on lakes or river stretches, which did not involve a passage through a lock or Portumna Bridge, would not be recorded
  • the passage records would not show, for instance, a change in the balance of types of activities from those in larger cruising boats to those in smaller (sailing, fishing, waterskiing) boats
  • figures like these will not necessarily be representative of those for the year as a whole. The winter months, January to March, see little traffic in any year; for April, May and June, the weather can have a large influence on the amount of activity especially, I suspect, in private boats.

On the other hand, the figures do include the Shannon’s most significant tourism activity, the cruiser hire business. And they are our only consistent long-term indicator of usage of the inland waterways.

All boats

Shannon traffic all boats to August 2014

Total (private + hired) traffic for the first eight months of each year

I thought that the good weather in July might have brought more boaters out in August (when the weather was not so good), but it didn’t. This is the lowest eight-month figure in my series; traffic is just under 56% of what it was in 2003.

Private boats

Shannon traffic private boats to August 2014

Private-boat traffic for the first eight months of each year

Nothing much to cheer about there. Traffic was very slightly higher than in 2012.

Maybe lots of people have taken up sailing, and thus been confined to the lakes, instead of cruising. If, gentle reader, you can think of a way of measuring sailing usage, let me know.

Hire boats

Shannon traffic hire boats to August 2014

Hire-boat traffic for the first eight months of each year

As I said last month, the pace of decline seems to have slowed, but this is still the lowest figure in my series.

Percentages of 2003 levels

Shannon traffic private and hired as % of 2003 to August 2014

Changes since 2003: private and hired boats

The eight-month figures for private traffic are a bit worse than the seven-month, but perhaps September’s extraordinarily good weather will prompt an increase. There is no good news for the hire business, but perhaps the profitability of the remaining operators will be improved.

Private -v- hired

Shannon traffic private -v- hired to August 2014

Still roughly 50/50

What is the Shannon’s USP?

 

 

Stealth seaplanes?

I have made several visits to Mountshannon this year, but unfortunately none of them coincided with an appearance by any of the “brand new fleet of aircraft, operating from destinations nationwide” that Harbour Flights promised would arrive “early in the new year” of 2014.

River Nore heritage

On its page headed Heritage Audit of the River Nore, Kilkenny County Council says

Phase 2 of the survey (from Kilkenny City to Inistioge) commenced in 2011 and will be completed in 2012.

It also says (on the same page)

Phase 2 of the survey (from Kilkenny City to just north of New Ross) is in the final stages of editing and will be completed in early 2014.

If anyone has seen any sign of it, I would be grateful for a link.

 

 

Shannon traffic figures to July 2014

I am grateful to Waterways Ireland for letting me have the Shannon traffic figures for July 2014. All the usual caveats apply:

  • the underlying figures do not record total waterways usage (even for the Shannon) as, for instance, sailing, fishing or waterskiing on lakes or river stretches, which did not involve a passage through a lock or Portumna Bridge, would not be recorded
  • the passage records would not show, for instance, a change in the balance of types of activities from those in larger cruising boats to those in smaller (sailing, fishing, waterskiing) boats
  • figures like these, for a small number of months, will not necessarily be representative of those for the year as a whole. The winter months, January to March, see little traffic in any year; for April, May and June, the weather can have a large influence on the amount of activity especially, I suspect, in private boats.

On the other hand, the figures do include the Shannon’s most significant tourism activity, the cruiser hire business. And they are our only consistent long-term indicator of usage of the inland waterways.

Shannon all boats Jan to Jul 2014

Total (private + hired) traffic for the first seven months of each year

Traffic in 2013 was up a bit on 2012; 2014 is down slightly below the 2012 level. It’s the lowest seven-month figure in the series (ie since 2003), which is a bit of a surprise: I thought that the good weather would encourage more boating.

The changes are small, so their importance must not be exaggerated, but they’re not cause for celebration. Let’s see whether the drop was amongst private or hired boats (or both).

Shannon private boats Jan to Jul 2014

Private-boat traffic for the first seven months of each year

Private traffic is up a bit on 2012 but down on 2013.

Shannon hired boats Jan to Jul 2014

Hire-boat traffic for the first seven months of each year

Hire-boat traffic is down on both previous years, but the pace of decline seems to have slowed.

Shannon private and hired -v- 2003 Jan to Jul 2014

Changes since 2003: private and hired boats

Hire-boat traffic seems to be levelling off at 40% of its 2003 figure: a massive loss of business. I do not know whether anyone is trying to, or could, recover that amount of business. I am not aware of any new Shannon-based tourism business that could compensate for the losses in the cruising (hire-boat) business, but I would be glad to hear from anyone who knows of such projects. Something with high growth potential is required.

Private traffic is wobbling either side of its 2003 figure: the increases during the Celtic Tiger years have been lost.

Shannon private -v- hired boats Jan to Jul 2014

Still roughly 50/50

In the year to July 2014, hire-boat traffic was just above private traffic, but there is very little in it. Private traffic is now comparatively more important to Waterways Ireland [which may be why it is now trying to establish its economic importance] but it does not bring in much money from outside the two jurisdictions, so the case for public spending on waterways becomes much weaker.

And, quite clearly, opening more waterways doesn’t work: as this chart showed last month, the branches off the main lines of the Shannon, Erne and SEW are little used. The Lough Allen Canal, the Suck and the navigation to Limerick are very little used and I see no sign that the reopened Royal Canal has attracted many visitors to Ireland. What is needed is more intensive usage of the main waterways, not further dilution by the opening of more branches [to Clones or anywhere else].

SnnNav JanJun 6

High and low usage

Finally, I thought it might be interesting to see whether the monthly pattern of usage has changed since 2003. To avoid an over-cluttered chart, I included only four years: 2003, 2003 +5, 2003 + 10 and 2014. The chart is for all boats, private and hired.

Shannon all boats by month selected years Jan to Jul 2014

Monthly traffic, selected years

The season seems to have got going earlier in 2003 and even in 2008. Was the weather better in those years?

 

Luddite loons

I have commented from time to time on the reluctance of some Irish folk to move beyond the technologies of the eighteenth century. Thus we find Shinners wanting canals all over the place and folk in Leitrim determined that, if Ireland has oil and gas, they must never be used. [That’s the Leitrim that had both a coal and an iron industry, by the way, as well as hydroelectricity, railways, a brickworks and a dockyard, to name but a few industries that come to mind.]

The latest target of the ire of the Luddites is that newfangled invention, the bicycle. Waterways Ireland might like to provide for folk to cycle along the trackway on the Barrow Navigation; some folk want to keep the dreaded bicycle, and presumably its Lycra-clad users, away from the trackway along which they like to walk.

Happily, some sane folk have written letters to the blatts and IndustrialHeritageIreland has a sensible comment.

I presume that the Luddites insist that the grass be cut using scythes, thus creating much local employment.

New guide to Shannon and Erne

In German. Bit of a coup for Sven and Anita, I think. Hawthorn‘s bow appears in one photo.

Some of Ireland’s competitors on this and the next two pages.

Where do correct ideas come from?

Where do correct ideas come from? Do they drop from the skies? No. Are they innate in the mind? No. They come from social practice, and from it alone; they come from three kinds of social practice, the struggle for production, the class struggle and scientific experiment.

Readers will not, I am sure, need to be reminded that those are the words of the late Comrade Mao Tse-tung [or Mao Zedong, as the younger comrades say] in the Draft Decision of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on Certain Problems in Our Present Rural Work of May 1963.

Maurice Semple, in By the Corribside [self-published, 1981], lists writers who, from 1868 onwards, agreed with the view of the Cong Canal expressed by Sir William Wilde:

[…] for it was discovered, that like many other undertakings, the great canal at Cong “would not hold water.”

Those writers’ view is echoed by local people, and even by engineers, to the present day. Their case is, in effect, that the Board of Works engineers did not know what they were doing or did not properly survey the ground and were therefore surprised to find, on admitting water to the bed of the canal, that it vanished into sinkholes or swallow-holes in the karst.

One oddity about that belief is that the Cong Canal does actually hold water: it is full in winter, as the photos on this page, taken in February 2013, clearly show. It is empty in summer, but that is because water is unable to get in at the upper end, not (I suggest) because it flows out through the bottom.

What interests me at the moment is that I can find no evidence to support Wilde’s contention. Samuel Roberts, the engineer in charge of the work, knew that the work would be difficult but there is no hint in any of his annual reports that he feared that the difficulties might be insuperable. Furthermore, it is clear from his own reports and from other evidence that he was ordered to cease work on the navigation aspects of the canal before it was finished: there was never a moment when water was admitted to a completed navigation canal.

I have not been able to find any report from the 1850s in the Freeman’s Journal, the Cork Examiner, the Dublin Evening Mail or the Belfast News-Letter, or in any British newspaper, that supports William Wilde’s account of events. What, then, is its basis?

Of course my inability to find evidence does not mean that it doesn’t exist, but I would be grateful if anyone could point me towards it. I should say that I do not regard later accounts, like Wilde’s, as valid unless they include some evidence from 1854, the year of which Roberts wrote

The masonry in the Cong lock was commenced in March, and was progressing rapidly when I received instructions from the Board, in April, to suspend the execution of all navigation works in this division of the district, and complete only such as were necessary for the regulation of the waters of Lough Mask, for drainage purposes.

What I am looking for is an eyewitness, an official or some other reliable account, from 1854, that says “the canal was completed; water was let in; it vanished, to the surprise of the engineers”. If no such account exists, I may be forced to conclude that Wilde’s style of work is opposed to the fundamental spirit of Marxism-Leninism. As the Great Helmsman put it in the Little Red Book:

To behave like “a blindfolded man catching sparrows”, or “a blind man groping for fish”, to be crude and careless, to indulge in verbiage, to rest content with a smattering of knowledge — such is the extremely bad style of work that still exists among many comrades in our Party, a style utterly opposed to the fundamental spirit of Marxism-Leninism. Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin have taught us that it is necessary to study conditions conscientiously and to proceed from objective reality and not from subjective wishes; but many of our comrades act in direct violation of this truth.