This year is set to be the busiest tourism year for overseas visitors since records began with the Wild Atlantic Way drawing tourists west earlier in the season and encouraging them to stay longer.
Official figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show the best January to July period for foreign tourists, with more than 5.4 million arrivals, representing an increase of almost 13% – 612,400 additional overseas visitors when compared with the first seven months of 2015.
July alone recorded more than one million arrivals from abroad.
There have been increases across the board from all regions of the world, with an 8% rise in trips from Britain, reaching just over one million. Visits from other European countries also tipped just over the million mark.
Americans are increasing their number of trips to Ireland the most, with a 13.3% increase in those who travelled this year.
While figures are not broken down regionally by the CSO for many months, all anecdotal evidence points to a very strong year so far, underlined Fiona Monaghan, head of the Wild Atlantic Way in Fáilte Ireland.
“Just past the January blues there was an increase in visitor numbers and September and October are looking very, very strong,” she told the Connacht Tribune.
“There was a mix of domestic and overseas tourists – the international visits started arriving from March and April, so they’re coming earlier and staying longer than ever before.”
The big jump in visitors west of the Shannon is down to a combination of elements which all aligned for 2016 – the Wild Atlantic Way touring route is now luring independent tourists to travel longer distances in hired cars; there has been an increase in air access from key markets and the favourable exchange rates is drawing more Americans.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that 2016 will see the largest number of overseas visitors ever to the west with national figures showing tourist numbers will break the eight million mark for the first time since 2008,” exclaimed Fiona.
“We’re finding that tourists are booking their first and last nights but are not committing to bed nights in between – they want to be fluid and see what appeals to them while on the Wild Atlantic Way.
“They’re spending two to three nights in Galway and using it as a base to see the Burren, Connemara and the Aran Islands. The challenge we have is to get them to stay in more peripheral areas and during the shoulder months.”
While welcoming the continuing growth in visitors, Galway hoteliers have sounded a note of caution that the effect of Brexit and the weakness in sterling need to be monitored so that the sector can plan for potential negative impact.
Paul Gill, vice president of the Irish Hotels Federation and manager of the Claregalway Hotel, said there has been a real sense of optimism in Galway this summer season with more visitors on the ground.
Tourism generates €506 million in Galway and supports 15,000 jobs.
“However, Brexit is a significant concern with sterling having fallen by more than 16% against the Euro compared to this time last year. This could have a negative knock-on effect for our local tourism industry,” he warned.
“The 9% VAT rate in particular has been of major significance to the industry. This has brought our VAT rate into line with other European destinations and helped level the playing field for tourism businesses to compete for visitors. This has led to increased visitor numbers and also allowed tourism business in Galway to create additional employment whilst reinvesting revenues in the sector.”
Loughrea Municipal District Cathaoirleach Jimmy McClearn lashed out at Fáilte Ireland at last week’s meeting for ignoring East Galway in all their marketing campaigns.
“We have to renew and reinvigorate our efforts to come up with some strategy for East Galway – we’re in a no man’s land as we’re not part of the Ancient East or the Wild Atlantic Way. It’s not good enough we’re being ignored.”
Fáilte Ireland is currently conducting a review of the body’s Lakelands and Inland Waterways strategy, which includes Portumna on Lough Derg.
Survey to look at parking and transport in Salthill
Residents, businesses and visitors to Salthill have been encouraged to take part in a survey being carried out by the City Council as part of a parking management study.
The study – funded by the National Transport Authority – will explore active travel (walking, cycling) measures along the Prom and will make recommendations on the regulation of parking in the Salthill area.
The Village Salthill group – which represents businesses in that area – have asked everyone to participate in the survey to ensure that the interests of all sectors are considered.
Pete Kelly, spokesperson for Village Salthill, told the Galway City Tribune that they wanted to approach the issue in a reasoned way – starting with participation in the survey.
“We will be engaging with the City Council, and the councillors, in a constructive manner on the whole parking issue but the vital thing for people to do now is to take part in the survey.
“Last year’s summer tourist season was largely rescued by the numbers of family groups who visited the resort and they are people who in the main use their cars to get here.
“We are also looking a population base of around 20,000 people in the Knocknacarra area who would be interested in looking at a better way of life in terms of movement and greater use of public transport,” said Mr Kelly.
Local councillor, Donal Lyons, told the Galway City Tribune that there were many different views to be taken into account as regards parking and traffic management in the Salthill area.
“I am appealing to residents of the Salthill and overall area to respond to this survey and to make their views known. Sometimes, surveys like this, can be dominated by lobby groups. Make sure as locals to have your say,” said Cllr Lyons.
Jimmy Callan, Acting Senior Engineer with the Council said that while the character of Salthill had changed over time, the area still retained its distinctive character and amenity value.
“The purpose of this parking study is to establish a relationship between how people are using Salthill, and where they choose to park.
“Previous public consultation in relation to Covid measures in summer 2020 showed that there is a strong demand to look at how travel and parking is managed in Salthill in the longer term,” said Mr Callan.
Submissions can be made at activetravelgalway.ie and the deadline is Saturday, July 10.
Telecoms company seeks permission to continue work halted by Council
Eir has sought permission to retain a concrete foundation it constructed for a mast at Drom Oir in Knocknacarra – a site where the communications company was forced to abandon works in April after the Council deemed it an unauthorised development.
The telecoms company is also seeking permission for the installation of a mast 12 metres in height, carrying an antenna, as well as ‘ground-based equipment cabinets and all associated site development works for wireless data and broadband services’.
Residents opposed to the structure have citied serious concerns over the potential visual impact of the mast, as well as the impact it may have on the values of their properties.
In the application, it is stated that the structure will be coloured in a galvanised finish, assimilating with ‘the typical sky colour in Ireland and surrounding built form’, but says it will be possible to use a green paint finish which could be requested by way of a conditional grant of planning permission.
“The proposed height, colour and design represent the best compromise between the visual impact of the proposal on the surrounding area and meeting the technical requirements of the site.
“Taking all matters into account, it is considered that this proposal which is to provide new 3G (data) and 4G (high speed data) broadband services, for Eir Mobile and a second operator on a single structure as opposed to having eventually two separate structures in this area, would not be discordant within the local environment.”
The application argues that the proposed development benefits from an existing wall (which partially screens it from the housing estate), a line of vegetation, semi-mature and mature trees along both sides of the Western Distributor Road, which will help to screen the site from this direction.
The structure is described as ‘an attractive pole’ that will blend with the area and give significant benefits by providing the ‘most up-to-date wireless broadband and data services.
Eir notes that it is aware of its requirements in relation to management of electromagnetic field radiation and states it is ‘committed to management of risk to our employees, members of the public and any other groups who may be affected by our networks’.
It states that all their radio base stations are ‘safe by design’ to meet international health and safety standards and best practice.
In a submission to Galway City Council, Leitir Búrca residents Oran Morris and Rebekah D’Arcy have objected to the proposal on grounds including that there are deficiencies in the application; that the mast is in close proximity to residents; and that the development will devalue property.
They contest the assertion that the mast will ‘improve coverage in the surrounding rural area’. “The predicted improvements to coverage do not include a single third class road. This justification is clearly for a rural area and not applicable to Galway City.”
They state that the proposed location of the mast is at the heart of a residential area, within 100 metres of 52 houses, with the closest at 51 Drom Oir which is just 29 metres away.
This, they argue, is in contravention of the City Development Plan, which states “only when a number of other possibilities have been exhausted, masts may be erected within or in the immediate vicinity of residential areas”.
They stress that the structure is unlike any other structure along the Western Distributor Road and will be out of character and visually obtrusive.
“The proposed development would be in direct line of sight from every front-facing window in our property, which is located 52m away . . . this is also true for numerous other properties in Leitir Búrca.
“These factors combined would undoubtedly decrease the value of our property. We retained the services of two separate registered auctioneers to value our property and estimate the devaluation due to the mast. Both reports estimated the devaluation to be between €90,000 and €100,000,” they state.
‘Excessive’ Galway Docks hotel rejected by planners
Galway City Council has turned down scaled-back plans for a 10-storey hotel at Galway Docks, branding it “excessive”.
Last September, Summix BNM Developments lodged a planning application with the Council for a three-storey to eleven-storey hotel (with a rooftop bar and function area) on site of the former Bord na Mona coal yard at the Docks.
The plans also included a restaurant, coffee bar and terraces.
However, the Council sent the company back to the drawing board and told it to revisit the overall scale, height, massing and intensity of the development, but said that the architectural quality of the proposed building is of a good standard.
Planners said there would be a “resultant overbearing expression” onto the Forthill Cemetery and the Long Walk ACA (Architectural Conservation Area). They sought a detailed assessment of the visual impacts on the graveyard.
The Council said that with a height of 38m and length of 70m-90m facing Bóthar na Long and Forthill Cemetery, the building “is not considered to assimilate well; lacks integration with the existing urban form; fails to achieve the visions and aspirations of the Galway City Development Plan . . . detracting from the character and setting of the area”.
The developers came back with scaled-back plans – they reduced the scheme to a maximum of 10 storeys (a height reduction of three metres) and the number of bedrooms reduced from 186 to 174 on the 0.55-acre site.
In its decision to refuse planning permission, the Council said the excessive density, scale and height on a very constrained site would represent overdevelopment of the site and would have a detrimental impact on the character and setting of Forthill Cemetery.
“The development does not adhere to the principles of good urban design set out in the Galway City Development Plan and in this regard, it is considered to lack the capacity for integration with the existing urban form, contribute positively to street enclosure and fails to sympathetically assimilate with Galway’s townscape,” the decision reads.
A submission from the Harbour Hotel – located opposite the site – welcomed the redevelopment of the vacant site but said the build and massing of the building would create “a visually dominant feature on this prominent corner location which will have an overbearing impact on the street scene and Forthill Cemetery”.
It added that the height would have a detrimental impact on the existing built and natural heritage of the area.
The submission also noted there were no carparking spaces provided in the plans, and there is a shortage of spaces in the city centre.
The Harbour Hotel submission claimed that the additional bedrooms would result in an overconcentration of tourism accommodation and an “excessively transient” population in the vicinity of the site.
City Council Heritage Officer, Dr Jim Higgins, said in his view the site should not be developed as the possibility of fort-related archaeology being present there is high.
He said that in the 1960s, a well was found on the CIE side of the site, close to the boundary wall.
According to the planning application, demand for hotel rooms in Galway will exceed “pre-Covid” levels by 2023.
“Provision of hotel accommodation at this location will enhance overall visitor experience on offer in the city, with convenient access to a broad range of attractions, as well as present a major new opportunity to capture a proportion of the spend generated by visitors to the area in a part of Galway City that has been in decline for many years,” the application reads.
Summix – which is headed by British technology entrepreneurs Shukri Shammas and Tareq Naqib – has already partnered with Galway developer Gerry Barrett on the approved plans for 360 student bed spaces on a site at Queen Street, behind Bonham Quay.
They have also partnered on the recently-approved €320m regeneration proposal at Ceannt Station called ‘Augustine Hill’, which includes homes, a new shopping precinct with four public squares, a multiplex cinema and eleven streets linking the city centre with the Docks and Lough Atalia.
Image: An architect’s impression of the hotel (with red facade) alongside the Bonham Quay development