Sunday business post
1st July 2007
Galway has something for everyone: from arts festivals and horseracing, the city is awash with things to do, writes Margaret O' Brien
One of the major developments in the Galway tourism market over the past five years is the growth of the domestic tourist market.
Last year, the region attracted 1.4 million overseas visitors, according to Fiona Monaghan, the newly appointed general manage of Fáilte Ireland West. The area also attracted almost as many domestic visitors: 1.3 million
"These figures testify to the significant growth experienced in domestic tourism in recent years," she said
When events beyond the control of tourism authorities, such as 9/11 and the subsequent fall-off of American tourists, impacted on inward tourism, Galway show its resilience by marketing itself aggressively, not just to overseas markets other than the US, but also in Ireland.
The city's standing as the festival capital of Ireland has ensured that from the beginning to the end of the holiday season, occupancy rates in hotels and guesthouse accommodation in Galway is at premium at weekends.
"Galway has something for everyone, and, while the weekend visitors profile is young, the city and region have proved and attractive option for retired and older age profiles, seeking midweek breaks" Monaghan said
Galway's festival calendar is impressive.
"There is something going on from spring to autumn and each festival helps to sustain the visitor numbers "she said.
"The popularity of the Galway Races is well known, but before that begins, Galway will host its annual arts festival from July 16 to 29 which will be responsible for bringing in about 150,000 visitors."
Looking overseas, Monaghan is delighted at the prospect of new scheduled Flyglobespan flights from JFK and Logan Airport in Boston, which have begun flying to Ireland west Airport in Knock.
"These new routes are of huge benefit to Knock, but also to the western counties. We are very lucky that we are close to three airports: our own Galway Airport, Ireland West Airport in Knock and Shannon International Airport." She said. "With the improved roads to Shannon to Galway, the journey time has been significantly shortened and that has benefit us."
Monaghan's new role as general manager sees her take responsibility for product development, marketing and visitor servicing in Fáilte Ireland's west region.
"I'm a native of Galway, but have been working in the us for the past 12 years, having held a position of marketing manager for Tourism Ireland North America since the establishment of Tourism Ireland in 2002" she said. "Prior to that, I was head of the marketing function in the Jury's Doyle Group in North America."
Having lived away for so long, she has a good perspective on Galway from a visitor's point of view.
"There have been massive changes in Ireland over the past decade, but one of the most significant is that many new hotels, built in recent years, are of a truly excellent standard - they are world class," she said
"The level of competition these hotels have brought to the market is very healthy, and visitors are now assured that there is value for money to be had when seeking high quality accommodation. There's a really broad range of hotels, from good quality three-star, value-for-money hotels to four-star and five-star accommodation. Visitors can also enjoy mid-week rates."
A glaring loss for Galway at present is the lack of a large conference centre, but Monaghan said this situation would be addresses sooner rather than later.
"We are working very hard to encourage the establishment of a PPP-funded cultural and events centre in Galway city and I am confident that this project will be delivered in the near future," she said
Meanwhile, much like everyone else involved in tourism in the city and county, Monaghan is looking forward to the prospect of the Volvo Ocean Race stopover in Galway in May 2009.
"It will be a huge event for the city and the region and I believe the long term benefits to tourism in the region will be vast." she said.
Gulliver Ireland, the tourism information and reservations network, has a unique insight into the Irish tourism sector. Galway was the most popular booking location after Dublin through Gulliver Ireland and maintained this position for the past few years, said Dr. Stewart Stephens, its managing director.
Meanwhile, the top four most popular destinations in Co. Galway, apart from Galway city, are Clifden, Oughterard, spiddal and Oranamore.
Gulliver Ireland covers all small towns in Galway and throughout the country and has 941 Galway properties on its system.
"Galway has consistently secured a 13 per cent share of all Gulliver bookings since 2002," Stephens said. "Interesting developments over the past five years include a dramatic increase in the level of hotel sector bookings in Galway. They grew 169 per cent between 2002 and 2006."
Perhaps most surprisingly against a backdrop of decline nationally, Galway B&B's bucked the trend by recording a 17 per cent increase in bookings in 2006 compared to the previous year.
Nationally, the CSO's 2006 Household Travel Survey reported that overnight stays in B&Bs are nearly on third down on the level seen at the beginning of the decade.
However, Stephens said that B&Bs were the most booked type of accommodation in Galway city and county last year. Galway city accounted for 72 per cent of total Galway bookings in 2006.
"Overall, both the city and locations throughout the county benefit from Galway's positioning as a short-break destination," he said
"This mirrors the general pattern whereby popular Irish tourism spots are increasingly securing domestic holidaymakers and inbound tourists for short breaks."
According to Gulliver statistics, domestic holidaymakers accounted for almost 42 per cent of all Galway bookings in 2006, an increase of 3 per cent over 2005.
Domestic bookings rose across Ireland as a whole and 45 per cent of GoIreland.com (owned by Gulliver Ireland) bookings last year were domestically sourced, while 25 per cent came from the US.
"We also know from Fáilte Ireland that 2006 saw people taking more holiday breaks at home" Stephens said. "The home holiday market grew by 9 per cent in overall domestic expenditure last year, and growth in both domestic holiday trips and expenditure of 11 per cent was recorded. Almost 3.7 million domestic holiday trips generated revenue of €780 million."
The average length of visitors stay in serviced accommodation in Galway was 3.3 bed-nights in 2006, which was similar to the 2005 figures.
Most visitors arrived on Friday or at the weekend, again giving a clear indication of the popularity of the short breaks.
Given the trend towards increased domestic tourism and rise in popularity of weekend breaks, Stephens said that like every other county in Ireland, Galway needed to invest significantly in online marketing.
"Savvy Irish tourism businesses are reaping huge remarketing from effective online marketing and Galway tourism providers need to ensure that they are among the best." he said.
"Locations outside Galway city need to be promoted more heavily and should be more easily accessible online for tourists to source. Galway city should also be promoted, as a city break location in the same way Dublin is."