The owner of one of Cork's most popular tourist attractions is asking for increased supports for the tourism industry to help it recover post-Covid.
Sir Charles Colthurst, whose family owns and operates Blarney Castle and Gardens, said ticket receipts have dropped by 85% as a result of restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Blarney Castle, which is famous for the tradition of bending over backwards to kiss the Blarney stone, can see as many as 65,000 tourists monthly during the summer season.
This August, the numbers fell to around 10,000.
The Castle can provide up to 90 full-time and part-time staff in a normal summer season, and efforts are being made to protect the jobs of the 30 full-time staff employed year-round. However, the impact on gate receipts and shortfall in Government support is making this challenging according to its owner.
“The priority for private operators such as ourselves is to keep the lights on, protect the income of our employees and ensure that we are well-positioned to take advantage of an upturn in business,” Sir Colthurst said, but support from Government and forbearance from creditors are vital to ensure the recovery.
“Right now, it is a matter of priorities. All our responsibilities will be fulfilled, and our business will trade successfully again when the restrictions are eventually lifted.
“The reality is that they cannot be fulfilled in the timeframe originally planned, as a result of an unforeseen and catastrophic change in circumstances.
“Unlike public tourist attractions where state funds flow freely into upkeep and maintenance, those in the private sector have to carry that weight alone. I would ask the Government to consider a special package of measures to support businesses such as ours.
“We will again return to being significant contributors in terms of taxes, but not if our businesses are not supported in the meantime.”
He added that he was “extremely grateful” to the people of Blarney and Cork who have supported them through the pandemic, and to those who have purchased season passes to access the Castle and grounds.
“Tourism had been Ireland’s fastest-growing sector pre-Covid, and I firmly believe that it will be again,” he said.
In March, visitors were prohibited from kissing the Blarney stone for the first time in its 600-year history due to the coronavirus.
Visitors are permitted to once again kiss the historic Blarney Stone, with the staff using a World Health Organization approved cleanser to clean the stone after every kiss.