Ireland: Why tourists are avoiding the Emerald Isle

High restaurant prices and the erratic quality of bed-and-breakfasts may be contributing to Ireland's 20 percent drop in tourism.

Ireland’s tourism industry is seeing its worst year in a decade, said the Cork Irish Examiner in an editorial. Fáilte Ireland, the national tourism board, said the country has hosted 20 percent fewer tourists this year in some places, and those who do come are spending less. The domestic tourist market has been negligible this year because of bad weather: The Irish won’t travel to the coast to spend their holidays in the same drizzle they can get at home. And Americans, traditionally the most populous group of foreign tourists, are staying away because of their own “economic gloom and poor exchange rates.”

If it weren’t for immigrants, the figures would be even lower, said the London Daily Mail. Much of this summer’s tourism to Ireland apparently consisted of visits by family members of the many Polish and Bulgarian workers who live there. But that is “low-spend tourism.” Since these Eastern Europeans are bunking with family, they don’t spend money on hotels or restaurants—and they don’t have much money to throw around anyway. Yet Western Europeans, who could be expected to spend more, aren’t being free with their euros.

Are our high restaurant prices deterring them? asked Kitty Holland in the Dublin Irish Times. Fáilte Ireland says it has received numerous complaints from tourists who say that eating out in Ireland isn’t worth the money. Irish chef Richard Corrigan, who has been working in London, said he was “really, really shocked’’ by restaurant prices on a recent visit to Ireland. “Everything seems to cost four or five or six euros more than the equivalent London experience.” The tourism board has promised to study the discrepancy and enact tougher price regulations.

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It should also take a look at bed-and-breakfasts, said The Irish Times. Business in that sector has been dropping steadily, most likely because staying in one is a gamble. Prices tend to be equally high no matter which little farmhouse you choose, but the “quality of service, of personal attention, and of comfort” varies widely. The most discriminating customers, the Irish, have all but stopped frequenting B&Bs—we make up just 5 percent of B&B traffic. The industry needs repeat customers from among the Americans and British, and it will only get them if it is better regulated. We can’t let the B&B industry wither away. It alone can offer tourists a “distinctive and close-up Irish experience.”

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