Traditional visitor haven Kerry is faced with a major challenge to reach the top of the tourism ratings.
Growth in Dublin’s popularity is severely hitting the far south-west and Kerry is now in fourth position for visitor numbers behind the capital, Cork and Galway.
Members of Kerry County Council were surprised to hear yesterday that the Kingdom is not a premium tourist county, though tourism is one of its main industries, with 10% of its labour force employed in hotels and guesthouses.
The matter arose during consideration of the tourism section of a new 2015-2021 draft county development plan, which also warned about the need to protect Kerry’s prime attraction — its natural scenery.
In 2011, the county had 846,000 visitors and the aim is to increase that figure substantially in the years ahead.
Around 8,000 one-off houses were built in Kerry in the 10 years to 2013, and a study by the UCD School of Architecture has warned Kerry is “close to tipping point” regarding the impact of such housing on the landscape.
Senior planning engineer Paul Stack stressed the need for care to protect the landscape, while also pointing to erosion and damage to pathways and mountain trails by multiple uses.
Fine Gael councillor Jim Finucane, who said 60% of visitors to Ireland now to go to Dublin, said Kerry had no listing in the country’s top 10 tourist attractions and was not a premium tourist county.
“The challenge now is to get some of the people visiting Dublin to come to our county. It’s very clear we have to do something different. Should our tourist bodies in Kerry have an office in Dublin?” he asked. “Over the past 20 years, we assumed we were getting a fair share of the tourism business, but reality is not bearing that out.”
South Kerry Independent Alliance councillor Michael Gleeson called for the development of trails and walking/cycling paths which he said provided the key to developing rural Ireland for tourism over the next 20 years.
He said inadequate signage had to be improved to make it easier for visitors to get around counties such as Kerry.
Fianna Fáil councillor John Brassil felt the Wild Atlantic Way offered potential and suggested five, or six, viewing points along the route be selected for “aggressive” promotion and development.
The success of the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience was highlighted as an example of what can be achieved in rural tourism.
Top 10 fee-charging attractions 2012 (Fáilte Ireland)
1. Guinness Storehouse, Dublin: 1,087,209.
2. Dublin Zoo: 1,029,417.
3. Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience, Clare: 873,988.
4. National Aquatic Centre, Dublin: 813,406.
5. Book of Kells, Dublin: 561,259.
6. Tayto Park, Meath: 391,000.
7. St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin: 385,000.
8. Fota Wildlife Park, Cork: 377,500.
9. Blarney Castle, Cork: 329,000.
10. Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin: 310,910.
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