Ireland’s oldest indoor market is introducing a tour-group booking system and is capping visitor group sizes to a maximum of eight people at a time in a bid to manage surging tourist numbers.
The new protocols at Cork’s English Market, due to come into effect on Wednesday, March 1, have been designed to facilitate and structure tours of the busy food market, while maintaining the day-to-day running of a market where up to 400 people work in 46 businesses.
They have been prepared in response to a significant increase in tourist numbers to the market in the wake of the visit by Queen Elizabeth in May 2011, which helped make it one of the city’s must-visit tourist locations.
There are no concrete figures on how many tourists visit the market but traders say it has become regular for up to three tour buses to arrive at once, several times a week, before some 200 tourists pile into the market through one of its seven entrances.
Pat O’Connell, chairman of the English Market Traders’ Committee said the increase in tourist numbers is extremely positive and that tour groups are very welcome.
But he said it has led to problems of overcrowding at certain times, and raised potential health and safety issues. These concerns were borne out by a recent survey of around 1,000 customers, traders, and tour groups.
Mr O’Connell said it is vital that the market’s unique offering is protected: “It’s important that everyone who visits gets to experience the true essence of the market — the atmosphere, the banter, the rapport, the quality food, and the knowledge of the traders. If we continue as we are and with the tourist numbers continuing to rise, the day-to-day running of the market will be affected and the livelihood of traders could be jeopardy.”
Mr O’Connell said traders have “carefully and sensitively” researched and considered how and what can be done to improve the running of the market and how they can preserve it as a renowned visitor attraction.
“We looked at how similar organisations worldwide operate in order to accommodate large numbers and I have no doubt these simple measures will make a huge difference and help us to preserve what the English Market is all about. A more organised environment will benefit everyone,” he said.
Aramark Property, the company which runs the market on behalf of Cork City Council, will from Wednesday introduce a system requiring tour operators to register annually to bring tours through the market.
Free market information packs will be provided to all registered tour guides and operators. All tour groups will then be required to book market visits in advance, with specific time slots allocated to them.
While groups of all sizes will be welcome, groups of no more than eight people will be allowed to move through the market at any one time.
School groups will also be required to book in advance, with visits restricted to before 10.30am on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays.
Aramark Property’s Órla Lannin, manager of the English Market, said she hopes the new protocols will deliver benefits to everyone working in, shopping in, or visiting the market.
“Overcrowding is an issue that has been recurring over the last few years and we really need to do something about it before it permanently affects the market. It should result in benefits to our customers, our traders, and our visitors, who should ultimately get a better experience of the market,” she said.
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