IT’S not always sunny in the sunny South-East and last month was a washout. But Waterford’s premier beachside town has learned to diversify and while footfall was down it was negated in Tramore by arrivals willing to spend more.
Businesses said the recession cloud seemed to have lifted once and for all and while the season hasn’t been as good weatherwise as 2014/2013 the tills are jingling away nicely.
Tramore Tourism chairwoman Mary Daniels reckons around 75% of visitors to the town are day-trippers.
“There’s also a huge amount of return business. There’s a bit of nostalgia as we also see people who have come here as children returning with their own children,” she said.
A walk down the impressive promenade by the 5km-long beach immediately confirmed what she was saying.
Bundling out of their jeep were two women from Nenagh, Co Tipperary, whose children were bursting to get to the sands.
Down for a few days were Lorraine Talbert and her friend Wendy Gallahue, who had both visited the town on numerous occasions when they were children. Now they were bringing another generation.
“When I was young we were living in Kilkenny and my parents would bring us here seven or eight times in the summer on day trips. I have very fond memories of great family days out and the chips before we went home,” Wendy said.
“There are a lot more eateries now than when I was a child. The whole place is geared towards children, it’s a lot more family-friendly with a lot more indoor activities to use if the weather is bad,” Lorraine added.
It was misty and threatening to rain when Sarah Davis, Oliver Fitzgerald and their two children, Miah, 8, and Karlee, seven months, were heading down the promenade. The family from Carlow Town were taking a short break in Tramore and Sarah said stoically that you had to adapt to Irish weather and the town offered plenty of options.
Noreen O’Shea, whose family run the popular 30-bed O’Shea’s Hotel, employs 20 in the winter, but this swells to 50 full and part-time staff in the summer. Their wages permeate around the town, which is an added boost to the economy.
She readily admits that the town needs more hotels (it currently has three), but its biggest, The Grand, which had 100 rooms, closed two years ago.
“Rumour has it that it’s been purchased. Hopefully, that’s true because it would be good for the town as we need more overnight beds,” she said.
Her husband, Joe, and a friend, Jim Harney, saved the local racecourse some years ago when it looked as though it was going belly-up. Along with others they raised money through shares and saved it. They knew it was a major money-spinner for the town and if lost could have serious repercussions for everybody living in Tramore.
“The recent four-day race festival brought in record numbers. If we lost it there would have been a major negative economic impact on the town. We have a fantastic manager there, Sue Phelan, who has improved facilities year on year,” Noreen said.
Everybody is looking for niche markets to get in people off season. The O’Shea’s are no exception. They are running a golf classic for guests next month, featuring trips to the local course, the one at Waterford Castle, Faithlegg and Mount Juliet.
They also organise three darts festivals in January, April, and September which pull in up to 300 participants at a time. “We’re constantly looking for new ideas to attract people to the town,” she said.
Frank King, who has managed the Tramore Amusement and Leisure Park for many years, said July was poor but visitor numbers have picked up since. Most of his amusements are outdoors, so weather-dependent.
“We were kind of spoiled over the last two years with the summers,” said Frank.
“We got off to a good start weather-wise in April and May, but July was poor. It’s picked up in the last few days and if it keeps that way we may catch up on last year. The crowds may not be as big but their spend is up. The fear of the recession has gone out of them.”
A few metres away at Splashworld the crowds are nearly swamping manager Gay McAuliffe who says the facility is a great fallback for families if rain hits the beach.
She’s been associated with it for 21 years. It was set up by the local community and back then was way ahead of its time.
Gay admits it’s become a bit dated and needs a revamp. It got a grant a few years ago for re-roofing and the management company is looking for more aid to improve it.
On Tripadvisor one woman claimed it was looking old. But there were no complaints from those enjoying the slides, wave machine, bubble pool and the main 25m pool on the day.
The weather doesn’t really matter to Bernadette Butler, who owns a surf shop, surf school, and beachside shop.
If it’s raining and windy it creates ideal conditions for surfers to ride the wave which crash in on the beach. If the sea is calm others come to enjoy kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding, which she also organises. If its dry and sunny the beachside shop gets very busy with people queuing for icecream and soft drinks.
“There’s no doubt it has been quieter this year. It’s been a miserable summer, but that really doesn’t matter to much to my business,” Bernadette said.
Martin Cullinane, who owns the T-Bay Surf Centre and café in the town, says visitor numbers may be down, but also reports this is offset as those coming are willing to spend more than in previous years. He said he gets a lot of repeat business from parents who want to get their children surfing. “Unfortunately people seem to be cutting the length of their holidays here because of the weather,” Martin said.
As the day improved the extensive carpark along the promenade steadily filled and by 2pm there wasn’t a space to be had.
It’s really good value for day-trippers especially. The council only introduces charged between June 1 and August 31 and it’s just €2 for the whole day.#
Not sitting on your laurels; always looking for niche opportunities; and investing in the future is the recipe for Tramore’s success.
A major investment programme is being planned to upgrade some slightly worn parts of the town and new festivals are being rolled out to bolster its off-season trade. Local businesses could teach the Brennan Brothers of At Your Service fame a thing or two. They know not everything is rosy, there’s some dereliction, a few eyesores and plenty of room to improve.
Since the city and county councils recently amalgamated the administrative headquarters for Tramore has moved away from Dungarvan to Waterford City, which is just 13km from the town.
This has benefited what is a suburb of the city and the Mayor of Mayor of Waterford Metropolitan Area, Cllr Eamon Quinlan (FF), says major plans are being advanced to enhance Tramore’s image, which he said is “a very strong and marketable brand”.
“We have had a blank cheque of goodwill from local people and organisations. We have set aside €1m for upgrading the main street, which is the traditional heart of the town. Our engineers will work with Tramore Management Group (an umbrella of local interests) to design new open spaces and a new streetscape with additional seating,” said Cllr Quinlan.
The council has also just purchased the former railway station, which first brought tourists to the town when it opened in 1853. Sadly it closed in 1961.
“We want to restore it and revitalise it with coffee shops, restaurants, possibly an interpretive centre, tourism office and also use it for business incubation units,” the councillor said.
He said dereliction in the town would also be addressed and the council is considering ways of encouraging new businesses to take over unused properties.
Tramore Tourism chairwoman Mary Daniels said the “cosmetics of the town need to be improved,” but inroads have been made on this in the past few years.
“We would like to see more indoor activities being created in the town,” she added.
Families come to Tramore in the summer, but it switches somewhat to couples in the winter. The tourism office opens all year round, seven days a week, cutting opening by just a couple of hours on winter days. Just over €250,000 has been spent on a new ‘All Aboard Playground’, financed by the county council, Tramore Chamber and LEADER, which allows disabled and able-bodied children play in the same area. It opened this year.
In July the town hosted a Promenade Festival and Air Show, which attracted huge crowds. The Japanese Gardens have opened at Tramore House providing a very popular draw.
For Halloween they’re planning ‘Traumatised’ where a large monster, designed by Waterford arts group Spraoi, will come out of the sea to spark a spook-laden festival. On December 2 a pre-Christmas festival is also being organised.
“The town has a population of 11,000 and we’re organising events for them and trying to attract in visitors as well to plug the off-season gaps. We’re trying to offer people a better experience throughout the year,” Ms Daniels said.
Next January the town will pay host to a festival commemorating the 200th anniversary of Ireland’s second worst single maritime disaster, the sinking of HMS Sea Horse. She was sailing from Ramsgate to Cork to bring home Irish soldiers who had fought in the Napoleonic Wars when she was destroyed in a storm in Tramore Bay on January 30, 1816, with the loss of 369 passengers.
Cllr Quinlan said the January commemorative service would be followed by a series of summer events focusing on the disaster.