Last Tuesday, the longest day of the year, Michael Coyne stood in his gastropub in the seaside village of Cill Chiaráin in the Connemara Gaeltacht and gazed at six Galway hookers on Kilkieran Pier. Normally at this time of year the Galway businessman explained the game of hurling to overseas tourists in the traditional pub with its tiled floor and old tobacco ads.
But the French, American, English, Italian and German tourists are conspicuous by their absence from Coyne’s gastropub, particularly during midweek.
Coyne blames the lack of foreign visitors on this part of the Wild Atlantic Way, where there is only one bus to and from the village to Galway city, 66km away, from stratospheric car hire price hikes. Unable to find affordable car hire to reach Cill Chiaráin, foreign tourists have canceled group bookings at Coyne’s Gastropub, opting to either stay in Dublin, where they can use public transport to get around, or go elsewhere. Coyne believes the problem will “destroy” regional tourism.
“Before Covid we were full during the summer during the week,” says Coyne, whose great-grandparents opened a pub and grocery store on the site in the 19th century. “I had really high hopes for tourism this year but we are nearing the peak of the season and just aren’t as busy as we should be.
“We had maybe 120, 130 people coming here in July and they had asked us about local events and places to stay. They are now saying they are not coming to Ireland this year because it is too expensive. This is our repeat tourism, people who come here annually and email me when they come to visit.
“People want their freedom to get around in their cars and the Wild Atlantic Way has been suggested as a place to drive. On the way they want to stop at castles and monasteries. But if prices are going to be that hard people won’t see Ireland as an attractive place to visit and companies like mine will go bust.
“Weekly I get emails from my main suppliers telling me about price increases and you can only take a limited amount. This is the first time in my life that I’ve worried about my business.
“This country is too good a tourism product to see it go down the drain because of exorbitant prices for things like rental cars. A tourist I met from Boston said they could have gone to Cancun and said they didn’t come to Ireland to be “ripped off”. I understand that the car rental industry has suffered from the pandemic for two years, but there is a limit to what people can take.”
The peak of the summer tourism season may be near, but tourism-focused businesses in rural parts of the Wild Atlantic Way – the 2,500km itinerary that runs from Kinsale, Co Cork, to Donegal – are reporting fewer visitors than their town counterparts, as tourists are being hit by high car hire costs deterred along with rising fuel prices, a lack of housing, the erosion of disposable income from faster inflation, congestion at Dublin Airport and fears of slowing economic growth.
Rental car stocks have fallen by half since May 2019 after a lack of international visitors during the pandemic prompted car rental companies to reduce their fleet size and global car production fell significantly during restrictions, according to tourism body Fáilte Ireland.
Earlier this month, Fáilte chief executive Paul Kelly told an Oireachtas tourism committee that the lack of rental cars was the issue he was “most concerned about” and he said if no action was taken it would ” permanently damage tourism in Ireland”. .
Meanwhile, a travel guide lonely planetpointed out in an article warning readers about Dublin prices that “the cost of renting a car is likely to weigh heavily on your budget”.
Some tourists report feeling the pinch. Last week, the Irish Independent reported that former Leitrim councilor John McCartin said his brother-in-law was quoted at over £50,000 for a nine-day vehicle hire.
In a typical year, 40 per cent of overseas holidaymakers hire a car to explore the countryside, says Eoghan O’Mara Walsh, chief executive of the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (ITIC), of which the Car Rental Council of Ireland trade body is a member. But the lack of affordable rental cars is taking a disproportionate toll on rural tourism.
“It’s affecting regional Ireland harder than anywhere else,” he says.
“As a result of the pandemic, there has been a reduction in rental cars of about 50 percent and there is very little availability. The last available cars are available at inflated prices and this is not helping Irish tourism.
“Anecdotally, some parts of the Wild Atlantic Way are doing well, mainly from Galway city down to Kerry, but there are still gaps to be filled north of Galway.”
Donegal had experienced a relative mini-boom over the last two summers as local consumers – forced to holiday at home due to Covid-19 air travel restrictions – flocked to the Wild Atlantic Way en masse. But Garry and Mairéad Anderson, who own the seasonal Seafood Shack on Killybegs Old Pier and the Boathouse Restaurant overlooking Killybegs Harbour, say the south-west Donegal town is much quieter this summer for a myriad of reasons.
“Some customers canceled last Sunday week because they looked at car hire costs at Dublin Airport, canceled the Irish leg of the journey and went direct to Belfast Airport instead,” says Garry Anderson.
“But there is a combination of things happening here. We used to have a really strong trade with day-trippers from places up north like Strabane and Omagh, but the price of diesel means the cost of filling up the average family car has doubled since the pandemic began. You could talk €70 or €80 for the ride. That’s at Seafood Shack, where sales are down 25 percent because people are spending less.
“In the restaurant we had to raise our prices slightly, in some cases by €3-4, because all of our costs are increasing, so people might skip the starters and go straight to the main course. We won’t be able to hire 33 people for the summer like last year – it will be 20 people, at limited times.
“All the supports from the pandemic are now gone and we and our customers are facing more difficulties than you faced during the pandemic.
“There are also hundreds of beds that have disappeared from the housing system. There are 120 Ukrainian refugees staying in hotels in Killybegs and they are also staying in hotels and B&Bs in Glenties, Bundoran and Glencolmcille so there is very little accommodation left in our catchment area. Also, the Irish are in a hurry to get back in the sun because they have missed going out for the last two or three years.”
Further south along the Wild Atlantic Way, bus tours taking foreign tourists to the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland’s second largest tourist attraction, pass Moher Cottage, a gift shop and cafe in Co Clare with a rear terrace overlooking Liscannor Bay and the Lahinch Beach. But Moher Cottage, a mile from the cliffs in one direction and a mile from Liscannor in the other, caters to the independent traveler. Owner Caitríona Considine has noticed fewer of them arriving at her parking lot.
“We’ve definitely noticed a difference in the business,” she says. “Our clients are a great many young couples who rent a car and drive the Wild Atlantic Way and take a cliff walk, but their numbers are significantly reduced and we definitely miss them.
“Maybe you’re lucky enough if you’re in the part of the hospitality industry that relies on bus tours. But young American and European couples and young families are not typically bus travelers, and their numbers have decreased significantly compared to 2019. Those arriving here in rental cars appear to be older and have more disposable income.
“The cost of living means younger people are also questioning their spending. The price of car rental and hotels in Dublin is a big challenge. Clare is also challenged because we don’t have a lot of big hotels and there isn’t a lot of accommodation so July and August will be booked everywhere.
“Many Irish people have gone abroad and endured us over the past two years, for which we will always be grateful. So there are fewer Irish and fewer American individual travellers. It’s just another challenging year with different challenges.
“And the weather in June hasn’t quite improved yet. We need the beach weather to bring people to the coast which would help all businesses here.
“Hopefully the car rental issues will correct themselves over the next year. I just see this as a year of recovery and we were hoping it would be normal.
Further south in west Clare, Tony Cogan, who runs Cogan’s Bar and Restaurant on Main Street, Miltown Malbay, says business with foreign visitors has been slower than he expected.
“I found the month of June quiet, although it’s hard to judge because I’ve changed my business model,” he says. “I’m now only open five days a week, from 5pm, and I used to be open 14 hours a day, seven days a week. This is due to staffing shortages and the lifestyle changes I’ve made during the pandemic.
“One thing I put it down to is the cost of car rental. If you can’t rent a car, you won’t come to a more rural enclave like Miltown Malbay. Some people don’t mind using public transportation to get to a destination like Miltown, but want their mode of transportation when they’re here to get around.
“I feel like there is quite a drop in international visitors. Some nights, before the pandemic, it was like the United Nations in here. But that’s over and it’s mostly Irish now. I’m afraid last summer’s staycation boom was a one-off gem that we won’t see again.”
https://www.independent.ie/business/irish/soaring-costs-of-everything-from-car-hire-to-energy-and-food-are-killing-our-tourism-industry-41786134.html Rising costs for everything from car rentals to energy and groceries are killing our tourism industry