A lack of jobs, the 2016 European Championships and ongoing concerns surrounding the fallout from Brexit are just three of the main factors that are continuing to stifle Longford’s tourism industry.
That’s according to visitors to the highways and byways of the midlands county this week in a special insight by this newspaper into the challenges facing the sector.
Our choice of location last Friday were the scenic Clondra along the Royal Canal, a regular stopping off point for boating and fishing enthusiasts.
Sitting perched in the driver’s seat of his camper van alongside his wife Patty, Kilkenny man Tony Morrissey could be seen running the rule over a daily newspaper.
“We come regular enough here,” he explained in between impromptu puffs on his pipe. “As far as we can see, tourism has several aspects to it.
“The Tourism Board are only ever interested in bums on seats and buses and coaches.
“We were in Hudson Bay for two or three days and there were no boats out on the lake,” he stated speculating that the local boat operators “must be suffering bigtime”.
Now retired, the talkative couple are no strangers to these parts.
Ballinamore in Co Leitrim, Ballyconnell in Cavan and Enniskillen’s idyllic Lough Erne have all been ticked off the ‘must see’ list in recent times.
“We are a different type of tourist, we start in Kilkenny and work our way up and we go down to the very bottom of the Shannon at Killaloe and Ballina.
“We stay in all the little ports but what we do is we get the weather forecast and wherever the sun is shining we go.”
Being able to set off whenever and wherever the urge takes you is a freedom they clearly treasure.
It’s also an entitlement that brings with it an ability to comment on the many issues still confronting Ireland’s tourism trade.
Top of the list is the recent decision by British voters to leave the European Union.
“It will affect the Brit,” Tony defiantly put it.
A large slice of that presumption comes amid fears falling sterling values will make Irish holidays more expensive for UK based visitors.
“Tommy is not going to come over here when he is not getting value for his pound.
“A lot of English tourists last year were having a ball with their exchange rate, but that’s going to change now.”
Shifting his focus to other overseas markets, Tony appeared less concerned.
“As regards the foreign tourists, the Germans, Americans and that, they buy their packages last winter and most of it is paid for by the time they leave.”
Coincidentally we then met German family, the Hermanns who were preparing to set sail before flying back home the following day.
Clearly not too disheartened by their national team’s Euro 2016 semi-final exit to France, Constance said their two week holiday was their second visit to these shores.
“The first time we came we were on the west coast, Galway and Ennis,” she said, remarking that the cost of their trip was just “okay”.
That said, the family asserted they had every intention of returning for a third time, citing “the Irish people” as the main reason behind such a mindset.
Across the other side of the harbour, Carlow man Paddy Quirke looked deep in thought as he carried out some repair work on his newly acquired boat, the aptly named ‘Cloondara Star’.
Paddy had words of caution in the aftermath of Brexit, but still had plenty of positive things to say about the state of tourism locally.
“Is it on the way up? With this English craic, the way it’s going it mightn’t stay that way though I was surprised when I came into the harbour.
“I barely got a spot and on the Shannon there seems to be a fair few cruisers.”
Arguably the most insightful analysis concerning the Anglo-Irish tourism relationship came courtesy of Sheffield native Harry Reeder.
While launching a verbal broadside at the so-called boat ‘hoggers’ who, he claimed, were taking up valuable mooring spaces along the harbour, the retired businessman said travelling costs were simply too high.
“The English tourist is virtually non existent now,” said the Belturbet-based boating enthusiast.
Recent improvements along the canal, such as the Shannon Blueway and Camlin River loop last year were welcome developments, he said.
But it was the overwhelming lack of visitors from the UK, and fishing practitioners especially, which Harry seemed most concerned by.
“In my days you couldn’t nearly get into Belturbet as it was full of cars but that was fishing.
“The problem with the English tourist is it costs us too damn much to get here.
“The ferries are charging €400 for a return ticket and I know because I frequent England enough.
“You can fly for €20 but you can’t carry a load of fishing tackle with you and that’s where you are losing out.
“The only English anglers you will see are the ones who live here.”
They were sentiments local publican Des McPartland roundly endorsed.
A key stakeholder in the county’s licenced trade for several decades, he is perhaps best placed than most to offer shrewd evaluations into Longford’s tourism market.
Keen to stress he was not a prophet of “doom and gloom”, Des said the sector remained mired in a state of flux.
“We are depending more now on our own people than we are on foreign visitors,” he said.
“It’s not what it used to be a few years ago by a long shot, not here anyway.”
He questioned the existance of the so-called economic recovery.
“I’d say there is a shortage of money all over,” he remarked.
“Where has the economy picked up? If you listened to Enda Kenny you would think we were flying again, but we are not. You drive down through these small towns, they are all dead. The first signs you will see of a recovery is jobs and there are none for youngsters. The nearest they have to go is Dublin and okay that’s going fairly well, but you drive down to Strokestown and Castlerea, drive down to places like Mohill, Ballinamore or my own home town of Manorhamilton it’s virtually closed.”
On the flip side, Des pointed to the perennially busy times towards the end of July and into August as possible sources of optimism.
The culmination of the recent Euro 2016 championships and the weather conditions were two other topics of interest.
“The football took a good bit from it (visitors) and our weather hasn’t been great,” said Des. “What really makes [the business] here is if I get fine weather. We had two weeks here in May and they were absolutely brilliant with all the tables outside being taken up.
“I am quite sure there will be a few busy weeks like the end of July and in to August,” he concluded on an optimistic note.
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