Tag Archives: tourism

A post-Brexit business opportunity

While running trip-boats has not always been the way to wealth on Irish waterways, we must always be alert to new business opportunities arising from changing circumstances. Brexit, the impending departure of HM Realm from the European Union may offer one such opportunity for a tourism-related business on the Shannon–Erne Waterway, perhaps around Aghalane.

The old bridge at Aghalane (OSI ~1840)

Here, scenic boat trips could be provided. Of course not everybody likes long boat trips, so there could be a market for short trips, perhaps from one side of the Woodford River (which here constitutes the Shannon–Erne Waterway) to the other.

The new bridge at Aghalane

Such trips could feature in package tours, including flights into Ireland, accommodation and leisure activities. But the Irish tourism board (whatever it’s called nowadays) needs to open up new markets: these tours might be attractive to our fellow-EU citizens from Eastern Europe.

There is another possibility for development here, combining economic growth with humanitarianism. Ireland could offer to open refugee camps in the area, thus sharing the burden with Calais, Greece, Italy and other places currently accommodating these unfortunates. This would not be entirely selfless: there would be a stimulus to the local economy from the construction and operation of the camps. Should demand for camps along waterways exceed supply, the re-opening of the Clones Sheugh could be considered.

I regret that the north side of the river is blank on the modern OSI map; that area is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.


According to the Irish Times of 27 August 2016

Fáilte Ireland has tendered [sic] for a company to help it develop a new tourism strategy for the swathe of land running down the middle of Ireland that falls outside the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East, the two linchpins of the State’s tourism marketing strategy.

The area, generally referred to in tourism marketing circles as “Ireland’s Lakelands” district, takes in parts of east Galway, Roscommon, Leitrim, much of north Tipperary, and runs down as far as the northern reaches of Cork. […]

The tender made no mention of the Lakelands moniker, but Ms Carroll [of Fáilte Ireland] […] said the Lakelands term, which is also used in the Programme for Government’s tourism strategy, may not end up being the final slogan that is used for the region.

I wonder what that does for Waterways Ireland’s Lakelands &  Inland Waterways marketing and product development Initiative and what it says about the success of the Lakelands Strategic Plan [PDF]. I note too that the Irish Times refers to “the State’s tourism marketing strategy” whereas WI’s initiative was a cross-border one and included the Erne as well as the Shannon.

Tourism and beer

According to Padraig Cribben of the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland [which seems to include the brewers of the beers we don’t drink],

[…] the latest figures I have seen show that 35% of foreign tourists do not move outside Dublin. That creates a massive challenge. That challenge is being addressed, initially through the Wild Atlantic Way, but even if one looks at the figures for that, my understanding is that while it was very successful last year, two thirds of all visitors to the Wild Atlantic Way were domestic visitors. There is still a great deal of scope there and it will pay more dividends over time.

There is an initiative due to happen in 2015 which is being broadly termed “south and east” and involves a trail from the Boyne Valley through to the heritage centres in the south east. In 2016 or thereabouts, a whole waterways section will relate to the Shannon and the canals to increase the dispersal.

Jolly good, but why is the drinks industry announcing this? Whose initiatives are these? Who else is involved? More info and links welcome, please.

By the way, Mr Cribben also said

The other point to make is that the Irish pub is unique. It is not just unique here, it has been replicated around the world.

I’m still trying to work out what “unique” means there.

Folk seeking interesting Irish beer should start with the Beoir directories.

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.







Shannon traffic to May 2014

I am grateful to Waterways Ireland for letting me have copies of the recorded numbers of boat passages through Shannon locks and Portumna Bridge for the first five months of 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 and May, 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 passages May 2014 01




The total amount of traffic continues to decline.

Shannon passages May 2014 02

Private-boat traffic is still below its average for the period but increased slightly on the same period of the previous year [but see the third caveat above].

Shannon passages May 2014 03


Hire-boat traffic is just over one third of its 2003 level.

Shannon passages May 2014 04


Since 2003, both private and hired traffic have fallen, from the highest figures attained within the period, by about 60% of the 2003 figure. But private traffic first rose by 40% of the 2003 figure, so it is now only about 20% below that figure. Hire traffic has fallen pretty consistently since 2003.

Shannon passages May 2014 05


Hire traffic is usually greater than private traffic between April and October (roughly speaking), but the gap is closing.

Carál Ní Chuilín, NI’s [SF] waterways minister, said the other day:

Waterways Ireland delivered a presentation to Ministers entitled ‘Ireland’s Inland Waterways — Building a Tourism Destination’. The presentation provided an overview of the progress that Waterways Ireland is making in placing waterways and the waterway experience at the centre of the tourism offering in Ireland and internationally.

And a good thing too, but the waterways need new water-based tourism products to complement, and perhaps to replace some of, the hire-boat cruising business. Opening new waterways — Royal Canal, Longford Branch, Ulster Canal, Kilbeggan Branch or anything else — is a waste of money until demand, domestic and visitor, private and hired, exceeds existing capacity.



The joint communiqué from last week’s North/South Ministerial Council Inland Waterways meeting is now available here. There was an exciting bit:


2. Ministers had a discussion on various priorities within their remit and noted that these will be contained in a report to be considered at a future NSMC Institutional meeting as part of the ongoing review into sectoral priorities.

Hmm … what’s cooking there? I do wonder why the NSMC bothers publishing content-free stuff like this. We may have to ask the US NSA to bug the meetings. Oh, hang on ….

Here’s a good bit, though:


3. Waterways Ireland delivered a presentation to Ministers entitled “Ireland’s Inland Waterways – Building a Tourism Destination”. The presentation provided an overview of the progress being made by Waterways Ireland in placing the waterways and the waterway experience at the centre of the tourism offering both in Ireland and internationally.

Now that is useful and important work. But, as I have pointed out elsewhere [including to Waterways Ireland], the WI draft Corporate Plan 2014–2016 said nothing about tourism. Some years ago, I thought that it was a mistake to have a Marketing & Communications Strategy and a Lakelands tourism initiative that seemed to exist outside the corporate planning process; I am still of the same mind.

I have asked Waterways Ireland for a copy of the presentation, and for a copy of the Strategic Development Plan for the Grand Canal Dock, Spencer Dock and Plot 8 that was mentioned in WI’s progress report. That report also covered:

  • continuing maintenance
  • public consultation on canal bye-laws
  • a Built Heritage Study and a GIS-based navigation guide for the Lower Bann
  • an environmental award for  work in restoring, protecting and promoting the heritage assets that are Spencer Dock and Grand Canal Dock
  • towpath development and work on the cycleway from Ashtown to Castleknock on the Royal
  • donating two barges for “recreational and community use”
  • “partnerships to utilise three unused navigation property for community and recreational use”, which I don’t know anything about.

The important part was this:


5. Ministers noted the position with the 2013 Business Plan and budget. They also noted that Waterways Ireland has undertaken a public consultation on the draft Corporate Plan 2014-2016, the preparation of a draft 2014 Business Plan by Waterways Ireland and that the plans will be reviewed after the public consultation is analysed. They also noted that Sponsor Departments will continue to work together with Waterways Ireland to finalise the Business Plans and Budgets for 2014 and the Corporate Plans for 2014-2016 that will be brought forward for approval at a future NSMC meeting.

I read that as showing that the north-south deadlock continues. The 2012 accounts have still not been published and the plans for 2014 won’t be approved until (at the earliest) three quarters of the way through the year.

The NSMC heard something about the Clones Sheugh but has decided not to tell the citizenry anything about it. It agreed to some property disposals and decided to meet again in October. But there was one odd item:


8. Ministers approved the Special EU Programmes Body Business Plan and Budget 2014 and Corporate Plan 2014-16.

The oddity is that the SEUPB is a separate body and usually gets its own meeting and communiqué. The last six meetings (before this one) have been attended by NI folk from Finance & Personnel and RoI folk from Public Expenditure & Reform (or, before that, Finance).

So who let spending ministers into the sweetshop? And why? Suspicious-minded folk might think that there is a plan to  nick a lot of Euroloot for the Clones Sheugh to get the Irish government off the hook persuade the Europeans of the benefits of investing in the reconstruction of a small portion of the Ulster Canal. We note that, on the previous day, Jimmy Deenihan gave a longer than usual reply to the standard question about the Sheugh, including this:

The Inter-Agency Group has met four times, last meeting on 9 December 2013. The Group continues to examine leveraged funding opportunities for the project. This includes the exploration of EU funding which may be potentially available in the next round of structural funds covering the period 2014–2020.

I have a better idea. Vladimir? There are oppressed Russians in Clones ….




Please, sir, I want some more

I have written from time to time about the Heritage Council and the budget cuts it has suffered. Here’s a comment from December 2010; here I said that the Council’s vigorous lobbying campaign had succeeded in ensuring its own survival; last month it became clear that, although the Council had survived, its main grants scheme had not.

The dauntless Michael Starrett returns to battle in today’s Irish Times [incidentally, if the Irish Times tries to charge me for linking to their site, I’ll set McGarr Solicitors on them]. He argues that natural and cultural heritage are the core of the tourism product and that they are being damaged by the withdrawal of (inter alia) the Council’s programme of (mostly small) grants to (mostly small) community projects.

This line of argument accords with that used by the Council in its successful campaign to ensure its own survival. It was made explicit in the report Economic Value of Ireland’s Historic Environment [PDF] produced by Ecorys and Fitzpatrick Associates for the Heritage Council and launched in May 2012. However, there are some difficulties with its use in the present context.

The first is that some folk might feel that heritage (natural or built) should be appreciated for itself, not for its economic value. That’s fine as long as people do it on their own time; I lose sympathy when that argument is used to extract money from taxpayers while hiding the economic cost and distracting attention from the beneficiaries of that spending.

The second difficulty is that the Economic Value of Ireland’s Historic Environment concentrates on larger sites and attractions:

Reflecting these various criteria, Ireland’s historic environment has been defined for the purposes of this study as comprising the following sets of built heritage assets – those which are statutorily protected, together with components of the broader built heritage:

– World Heritage Sites
– Recorded Monuments, as defined by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht
– Protected Structures included in planning authorities’ development plans
– Architectural Conservation Areas included in planning authorities’ development plans
– Designed landscapes surveyed by the Inventory of Architectural Heritage, and
– Other structures erected pre-1919, of which a note says “This is an increasingly accepted definitional component for the broader built heritage, although it is  acknowledged that some Protected Structures may have been built post 1919. Up to 1919 most houses in Ireland and Great Britain were built by skilled craftsmen using traditional indigenous building materials. Although the majority of older buildings are not listed/ statutorily protected, the majority provide flexible domestic and office accommodation. Major investment in money, energy and materials is embodied in these structures.”

The economic impact of the sector is the sum of three things:

  • Direct repair and maintenance output in relation to pre-1919
    building stock
  • Direct tourism expenditure by tourists principally attracted to
    Ireland by the Historic Environment (HE)
  • Direct employment, expenditure and income by the public sector (eg the Office of Public Works), subtracting overlap with the repair and maintenance category and the tourism expenditure category.

Eight of the ten case-studies considered in the report are about large sites, some of them commercial operations and others state-owned. The two exceptions are the Irish Landmark Trust and the Heritage Council’s grant scheme for traditional farm buildings.

Now, as far as I can make out, a lot of the recipients of Heritage Council grants (generally, not just those for farm buildings) would have fallen into the “Other structures erected pre-1919” category. I have not been able to discover, from the report, how much of the Historic Environment’s contribution to Gross Value Added is attributable to that category, or to any other category that might include the Council’s recipients of small grants.

In effect, the report seems to me to made some very broad-brush claims about the annual value of the Historic Environment, and those claims are being used to cast a halo effect over the entire sector. But it is not, it seems to me, proven that spending on any particular sub-sector is a good investment. (If I am wrong on that, I would welcome comments.)

Furthermore, I suspect that most of the contribution of the small projects supported by Heritage Council grants would come from the spending on repair and maintenance (where the total contribution is arrived at after some pretty heroic assumptions) rather than from that by tourists. Approaching it from the bottom up, I suspect that very few tourists are attracted to Ireland by the fact that the Heritage Council has grant-aided the clearing of an individual graveyard or the removal of rhododendron from a woodland.

So the argument that is being presented today, that (to quote the headline) “Tourism will suffer without real support for heritage” where “heritage” means “small local projects”, is not convincing. And it is rendered even less convincing by the fact that Heritage Council grants schemes explicitly gave low priority to tourism projects. But that is not to say that the small schemes are without value: there could and, I would argue, should be an effort to use them as part of the tourism marketing effort.

But there is a real difficulty here. How do you market small-scale tourism attractions? How does a small enterprise, or a small community, sell its heritage? How do the overseers of the national tourism product get tourists out of the well-known areas and off the beaten track, to places where they can meet real people and see real stuff? Maybe that’s what The Ghastly Gathering is about [I’m sorry: I can’t bring myself to read it].

Towards the end of his article, Michael Starrett talks in terms of landscapes, and I think he is right to use a term that is broader than a single site or location for a project. To have an impact, to be marketable, small projects need to be linked. Some of those links could be geographical, within a single area or landscape; some could be temporal, some familial, yet others commercial or otherwise thematic (for instance, the fascinating history of the Irish egg trade). I think that the small projects can help to attract tourists, but they need to be organised.


Raising the dead

North Tipperary LEADER Partnership (lead), Clare Local Development Co. and Galway Rural Development Co. intends to contract an individual or company with relevant experience who will work in conjunction with the Lough Derg Marketing Strategy Group to identify tourism projects that would be eligible for funding under the Rural Development Programme. The aim, through animation and capacity building, is to assist the tourism sector in the three regions with the supports they require to develop Lough Derg as a key destination for water based activities combined with a range of very high quality walking, cycling, heritage and culture and food experience.

More info here; not sure whether you need to register to see it.

WI on the wireless?

I heard several ads today on 2RN (or Radio Athlone, as the young folk say) for, er, “fun” on the Shannon and the Erne. Folk were encouraged to visit a Discover Ireland website, which I think is run by one of the bits of what used to be Bord Fáilte.

The site in question might be this one, where the Lough Derg offers include a hotel in Thurles, which is miles away from Lough Derg. The insistence on “fun” and “family adventure” suggests that that site is aimed at the members of the moronic community, and it is difficult to find any information apart from the prepackaged “family breaks”. And I’m not sure that the slogan “Discover Fermanagh: Where the days seem longer …” is a winner: why travel to Fermanagh to be bored when you could do it at home?

But what is most interesting is the sudden increase in the amount of advertising on the wireless; I don’t yet know whether it is matched by an increase in that on other media. I assume that tourism folk don’t spend money unless they are short of visitors. So have the numbers of overseas, foreign and domestic holiday-makers been disappointing so far this year? I don’t know, and the Tourism Barometer for April 2012 [PDF] suggested that service providers were optimistic at least at that stage.

I am aware that Waterways Ireland, which contributes to the lakelands marketing effort, has pulled advertising from some media; is it diverting its spending in an effort to boost tourism, or is that simply a change of policy consequent on a change of management? I would welcome information.

I would also welcome a proper analysis of the success of WI’s Lakelands and Inland Waterways marketign initiative.

Issalon kwahi *

Watery news from the Guardian.

That is, of course, the Nenagh Guardian, not that other provincial stalwart the Manchester Guardian.

Four items in the issue of 2 June 2012 caught my eye.

First, the members of the Nenagh Canoe Club have been cleaning up … the Nenagh River, a laudable endeavour.

Second, a community project in Ballina (Killaloe’s oppo) “will see a new jetty with a thirty-year lease built on the site of the old Lakeside Marina”. The paper says that …

[…] Jim Watkins, Eoin Little and Cllr Phyll Bugler of “The Friends of the Lake” have now initiated a project, which will be funded by Leader.

I have no idea what it’s for; I would welcome more information about the project and about the Friends of the Lake, whereof I know nothing.

Third, the Lough Derg Marketing Strategy Group (which god preserve), which is coordinated by the  Mid West Regional Authority (who knew?), is holding meetings about signposts. What would be really nice, though, would be if the MWRA took down the pic in its header showing adults and children in an open boat without lifejackets.

Finally, there’s a story about a proposed “fountain auditorium” planned for Birdhill [which was on the old N7, between Nenagh and Limerick, being chiefly famous for winning Tidy Towns competitions and being home to Matt the Threshers pub and eatery]. The “fountain auditorium” was, for reasons that are not entirely clear, to be a temporary operation, running until the end of 2016. It was to be located in a warehouse on the Shannonside Business Park (which is some miles from the Shannon).

The fountain auditorium was to have a pool 20m X 8m and “fountains capable of pumping water 9m into the air through more than 150 rotating nozzles”. The article says that

The proposed development is to serve as a tourist attraction centring on a fountain auditorium, in which audiences would be treated to pre-recorded shows marrying features of water, sound and synchronised lighting. The shows would have a “welcome to Lough Derg” theme, and the centre would provide visitors with information on the likes of walking and cycling routes, accommodation options, and food establishments, together with information on the history of Lough Derg.

It is not clear whether the words “fountain auditorium, in which” mean that the audience would be sitting in the pool or around it. The site was to have a “gift shop and café”. It expected to have 25,000 visitors in 2012 and 40,000 by 2016, after which it would move to permanent purpose-built premises with “a more comprehensive exhibition on Lough Derg”.

Alas! The proposed widening of the R494 road from Birdhill to Ballina, to serve the new bridge over the Shannon, would mean the loss of the space on which visitors’ coaches were to be parked. So, although the project received conditional planning permission on 16 May 2012, the promoters, Glance Promotions Ltd, withdrew their application shortly afterwards. However, that does at least suggest that they were not having any problem in providing the funding, which is good to hear in these difficult times.

* The relevance of the title of this piece will be clear to the many admirers of the oeuvre of the 4th Baron St Oswald.