The rain hasn’t dampened spirits in Dingle as it looks to become more than just a summer destination and has actually helped to boost the coffers in cafes and gift shops as tourists — and families in particular — abandon sightseeing and seek shelter instead
IT was the worst July in 22 years but the lack of sunshine has not affected numbers travelling to one of the country’s top tourist towns.
It has, however, affected what people do when they get there and how much money they spend.
Dingle in Co Kerry is at the height of the summer season which has now extended to about seven months of the year.
It is estimated up to 90% of households in the area have at least one family member working in a tourism-related occupation and, accordingly, off-season the numbers on the Live Register rocket by around 40% after the October bank holiday.
Figures from the Central Statistics Office for the first six months of 2015 indicate overseas’ visitors to Ireland increased by 12% when compared to the same period last year. This suggests it was the best ever January to June period on record.
Then along came July, one of the wettest and coldest on record.
Acting chairman of the Dingle Peninsula Tourism Alliance and owner of Greenmount House, Gary Curran says a bad July has not impacted as badly on the numbers visiting the area as people might imagine.
“Dingle is almost a 50/50 split between the international and domestic market and if you’re coming here, the chances are you’re going to be pre-booked anyway, so I would say the weather doesn’t impact really. It hasn’t on us anyway,” he said.
“We had a brilliant spring and a brilliant autumn and the people who came here in the shoulder season [at either side of peak season] had an amazing time and, to tell you the truth, that’s what we want — for people to see Dingle as more than just a summer destination.
“Does it damage Dingle, the summer being bad? Personally, I don’t think so but the most difficult market is probably the self-catering, family market, who are here for a week.
“You’re spending more money because you’re around the town; you’re going for cups of coffee, you’re trying to occupy the kids, you’re going to the cinema, the shops, and you do spend a lot more money.
“So, for the family market, it probably has ended up being more expensive than they thought.”
‘You’re spending more money because you’re around the town; you’re going for cups of coffee, you’re trying to occupy the kids, you’re going to the cinema, the shops, and you spend more’.
When the sun shines, it’s paradise and there’s nothing like waking up to a fine day on the Dingle Peninsula to encourage people to extend their visit by an extra day or two and that hasn’t been happening this summer.
The noticeable impact of a “bad July” has been increased traffic in the town. When the sun shines, the crowd is dispersed, sighting seeing around Slea Head and the Conor Pass or on the beach.
When it’s raining, traffic is brutal, parking is scarcer but, on the plus side, the coffee and gift shops are packed.
“I’m sure our retailers had the best summer ever but things like Blasket Island trips and ocean-going activities had a wipeout of a summer,” Mr Curran said.
“Dolphin trips to see Fungi have not really been affected because the boats are covered and the traditional rainy day activities such as Oceanworld Aquarium, Play at Height climbing wall and making pottery at Louis Mulcahy’s had a great summer.”
Dingle Harbour. Blasket Island trips and ocean-going activities had a ‘wipeout’ of a summer due to thebad weather, but trips to see Fungi were largely unaffected as those boats are covered.
But if people could avail of what’s on offer such as kayaking, diving, the eco tours, the hill walks, it would add to their experience and ensure they come back again for more.
Mr Curran says the challenge for the town and peninsula is to extend the season further and promote the ‘Dingle Experience’ by adding to the attractions and innovating its tourism product.
Wren’s Day and New Year’s Eve are two of the busiest times but the first major event after that is the Dingle Hillwalking Festival in mid-February.
From then on, there are a series of festivals and events over the summer, including Feile na Bealtaine in May, the Women’s Marathon, the Adventure Race, the Dingle Trad Fest in September right up to the Dingle Food and Wine Festival in the first weekend of October.
Other Voices provides a welcome influx of people in early December but November and January are the months when there is a lull.
The sun shines after a recent shower of rain in the popular tourist town.
People don’t travel to the western seaboard at any time of the year for the fine weather, it’s a bonus, but Mr Curran thinks there’s huge potential for a storm festival, just not in July.
“We do probably need a few more winter festivals and we’d love something in November because there is a national market and people who are looking for a break and for something to do in those months so there is a pile of work to be done.
“But volunteerism will only get you so far and all the volunteers are busy working over the summer.
“We’ve no one managing tourism here and it’s our biggest industry,” he said.
Helen O’Grady at her Sweet Pea shop in Green St, Dingle.
The wet summer has increased footfall and Helen O’Grady has noticed a big increase in the numbers of people calling into her souvenir and gift shop, ‘Sweet Pea’ on Green St.
Helen opened her business three years ago and although she has a background in retail, this is the first time she’s had a shop in a tourist area. “People come in out of the rain and that can’t be bad for business,” she says. “When the sun shines they’re out there looking at the scenery but when it’s wet they’re trapped for things to do.”
She said she noticed things beginning to get busier for her in the middle of July and a good exchange rate for visitors from the UK and America has also helped.
“It was a slow start but now things are tipping away, as they say.”
Sean Roche says Doyle’s Restaurant has been reaping the benefits of being on the Wild Atlantic Way.
Husband and wife Sean Roche and Anna Scanlon took over Doyle’s Restaurant on John St five years ago and now employ 10 people — two more than last year.
What started off as their busiest summer began to plateau in July.
However, they say, it’s been a good year so far, despite the disappointing weather.
“We’re up on last year and definitely there has been a turnaround in the last two years, but July wasn’t what we thought it would be and it has definitely been a quieter July than last year but August again has been busy,” says Sean.
“After a busy May and June, we thought it was really going to take off in July. But it plateaued and there have definitely been less families.”
Anna says July was “calmer”, with no excess trade from customers coming in and looking for a table at the last minute.
“We’re still doing our covers but we’re not turning away people as much as we have been in previous years,” she said.
The couple say that being on the Wild Atlantic Way route has had a hugely positive impact on their business.
Mary O’Neill of Dingle Eco Tours.
July has presented its own challenges for Michael and Mary O’Neill of Dingle Bay Charters, but luckily they have been able to diversity and offer customers an alternative experience.
The couple have been running sea angling, eco tours, Blasket Island ferries, and harbour tours for 14 years from their base at the Marina.
Their tours are rated number four out of 32 outdoor activities to do on the Dingle Peninsula by tourists on Tripadvisor.
This summer’s weather had a hugely negative impact on the sea angling aspect of the business due to high winds and sea swells.
But harbour tours and trips to see Fungi have not really been affected, and they’ve been able to accommodate their customers on these, although they’ve had to cancel the majority of their sea angling trips.
“My ice cream sales are also down on last year but, on the brighter side, coffee sales are up and I’ve never sold so much hot chocolate,” Mary says.
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