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Galway County Council’s blueprint to boost tourist numbers

A new tourism strategy adopted by the County Council will seek to boost numbers visiting Galway by 9% in the next six years – and generate an additional spend of €30 million annually.

However, concerns have been raised that poor public transport links and sky-high hotel prices which could hamper any widespread benefit from the plan.

At a meeting last Monday, councillors gave their backing to a first-of-its-kind tourism strategy for the county which divides the county into ‘tourism development zones’ with the aim of keeping visitors here for longer.

However, Cllr Jim Cuddy (Ind) said the cost of accommodation had ‘gone through the roof’ since Covid.

“How can you expect people to come to Galway and spend money when they’re being fleeced? And that’s not mentioned [in the strategy] in any way,” said Cllr Cuddy.

Cllr Eileen Mannion (FG) said while there were high prices “in the city for hotel accommodation during the races and at peak times”, there was good value to be got in the county.

Cllr Geraldine Donohoe (Ind) said the strategy identified locations which were ‘accessible’ by public transport but said there were huge deficiencies in Galway’s bus and rail services.

“The report seems to be at odds with what’s going on, on the ground.

“The reality is there aren’t enough buses and there aren’t enough trains . . . it says there are regular services to the east of the county – there are, but there aren’t enough. On the trains, people are already left standing,” said Cllr Donohue.

Cllr Alistair McKinstry (Green) concurred and said while the report was at pains to stress its commitment to sustainable tourism, the current bus services to Connemara weren’t fit for local use, not to mind visitor use.

“[The strategy] is fairly poor on connectivity on buses and on how somebody without a car would get around Galway,” he said, adding that as part of the country’s emission reduction targets, car journeys must be cut by 30% over the next six years.

The strategy, which has been developed by the local authority in conjunction with CHL Consulting and Minogue and Associates, identifies six zones encompassing all areas of the county – each with at least one ‘anchor town’.

And while the zones seek to identify where tourists will likely spend their time, the boundaries are ‘blurred’ and individual zones will not be marketed as separate entities.

In a presentation to councillors, Ali Curran of CHL Consulting said these ‘strategic zones’ have been used to identify ‘migration patters’ among visitors.

“For example, if you are in East Galway, you are unlikely to take a daytrip to Connemara. If you wanted to go to the beach, you are more likely to go somewhere like Kinvara,” she explained.

These zones would enable planning for such visitors, she continued, and form the basis of a strategy that seeks to provide what she termed ‘sticky’ attractions in each zone – attractions that will make visitors stick around for longer and, as a result, spend more money locally.

Ms Curran said they conservatively estimated that current visitor numbers of 1.1 million annually could grow to 1.2 million by 2030 – increasing the total tourism revenue in the county from €312 million today to €342 million.

Cllr Joe Byrne (FG) expressed surprise that these targets were so ‘modest’.

Responding, Ms Curran said the forecasts were conservative but reflected the impact of Covid-19 on tourism.

Cllr Donagh Killilea (FF) said a significant infrastructural investment was required at a number of attractions identified in the report, including the Knockma visitor centre in his own electoral district.

Developments such as wind farms would have an impact, too, on tourism attractions and that should be recognised, he said.

“There is a growing prevalence of applications for inland turbines. It is very important that the tourism strategy be cognisant of what’s going on, on the ground,” said Cllr Killilea.

Cllr James Charity (Ind) said he could not support the strategy as it ‘excluded’ areas like his own in Annaghdown..

Cllr Pádraig Mac an Iomaire (FG) said areas like his in South Connemara needed a greater focus on getting the glut of day-trippers who visit the islands to stick around for longer.

Meanwhile, short-term lets were identified by Cllr Joe Byrne as being of significant importance for areas like his in Kinvara, where tourist accommodation was in short supply, and he said planning regulations which limited their use in Rent Pressure Zones (RPZs) needed to be re-examined.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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