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July 25th 2001

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Tourism Business Down
Donegal having poor season say providers

By Margaret Gallagher

Left: Edith Browne, Atlantic Guest House;
Centre:Paul Diver, General Manager, Sand House Hotel;
Right: Sean McLoone, Head Guide, Donegal Castle.

Paul Diver, Secretary of the Irish Hotel Federation in Donegal, was quoted in the Democrat as saying that foreign bookings around the County were down by 25%. Adding “if things continue like this there will be some people pushed to the brink”, Mr. Diver concluded “Our members are very worried”. In order to check the veracity of the Rossylongan man’s assertion, we sent our own reporter out to check the tourism barometer around town. This is her report.

Rosearl B&B: Proprietor Martin Mulhern said figures so far were very bad with a drop of 30% - 40% in bed nights - no passing trade, and most people just staying one night. Martin continued “the Northern holiday from 12th July during which you usually would find people staying a week to two weeks, this year it was just two to three days.” He puts the drop in figures down to Foot and Mouth. He also feels Donegal is lacking in family facilities.

Martin, who is secretary of the Snooker club, went on to say “the Bosco Centre is a poor reflection on the town.” He feels if he had any input into the management structure he would have the Centre open to the public, offering snooker, bowling, burger counter, amusement facilities (not gaming machines) and more. According to Martin these are the facilities which attracts families to a town. Martin says part of the reason for the drop in tourists is lack of wet-weather facilities.

Martin also felt that one good advertising structure should be installed instead of the fragmented one that is in place. He mentioned in particular the County Council subsidiary, Donegal County Tourism, in whose brochure “Donegal - UP Here Is Different” Martin has advertised over the past two years, with no return.

Atlantic Guest House: This is the only guest house in Donegal Town. Speaking with Edith Brown, she said June was down 10%. July is holding its own - but no extra bookings. August looks good. Overall, she feels the tourist trade is down as there are cheap Continental holidays available on the internet on which people are guaranteed sun.

Edith declared “Donegal lacks a swimming pool and cinema.” Edith, who is in the bed & breakfast business for 35 years went on to say “Donegal Town has not really changed in this time, there are a few extras but nothing like the other tourist towns down the country.” Most of her customers, who return from year to year, comment on this, while new guests say how they expected Donegal Town to be bigger with more to do, seeing that it is sold as the gateway to Donegal.

Ardeevin B&B: Mary McGinty said that she was full most nights but no surplus. There is a drop in figures overall which she puts down to Foot and Mouth. In the morning over breakfast she is often asked where parents can bring their children for the day and she has to say Bundoran where they can have a swim or go to the cinema or whatever. “One American lady guest commented that she was glad that she hadn’t arrived in Donegal in the morning hoping to spend the day, because she had seen and done everything in one hour - this sums it all up” says Mary.

The other big drawback she finds is the lack of traditional music. When guests query where there is such music she finds it difficult to tell them. She says there is no consistency in venues and people feel the entertainment starts and ends too late as most visitors like to be in bed by 10 or 11 o’clock.

Sand House Hotel: Paul Diver says tourist figures are down 20%, the result of Foot and Mouth. To compensate for this he has had to increase his advertising budget substantially. Paul observes “Donegal Town is very popular on the Tourist Market and the Water Bus is a great attraction.”

Asked about his feelings on entertainment for tourists, Paul said “definitely the traditional music starts too late. At a meeting of the Erne Enterprise committee, the problem was addressed, with the music commencing now at 8pm. I feel that Donegal should do something the same.” When asked about advertising strategy Paul felt differently from Martin Mulhern. He said that the Donegal County Tourism was a huge success with all the hotels. By using the Donegal Logo in their advertising they were getting the fact across that Donegal is not part of Northern Ireland. Overall, speaking as Secretary of the Hotels Federation, Paul feels that members are having a difficult season.

Central Hotel: Michael Naughtan said the hotel was down between 10%-20%. He feels there are a number of factors, weather being number one, causing a huge drop in the Irish tourist. He went on to say that there were two busy days after 12th July but that was all. He feels that Donegal Town has a serious parking problem, which on one day caused staff to arrive up to half an hour late because they couldn’t find parking space.

Abbey Hotel: Paul Gallagher said the Abbey Hotel was down 15%, with August looking quiet. He said the cancellation of tours were due to Foot and Mouth but overall there is also a slump in the economy. He said that the hotel is being forced to advertise special offers even for August which is high season and these are being picked up quickly - this is the only way to meet the downfall. He feels the town is slipping and everybody is sitting back waiting on other people to do something.

Linda’s Crusty Kitchen: Jon Geary has a good local custom but the tourist trade is down 10%. Last Summer, John opened to 8pm. but not this year, as the customers are not there. He puts the drop down to the Foot and Mouth and thinks Donegal’s biggest problem is parking.

Donegal Castle: Sean McLoone, Head Guide, who is also a member of Donegal Tourism said that figures for the Castle are down 10% overall. He attributes this to F & M, as a large percentage of their visitors are tour buses. “We got the earlier tours in March and April as these were paid up and too late to cancel - but June, July, August seems to be on the decline especially the Americans”. Sean feels the town lacks family amenities but said that with the Revlin development and other plans such as the town walk definite steps are been taken to get Donegal back in contention.

In talking to him he mentioned towns like Kiltimagh and Westport as examples of towns that he feels Donegal should emulate.

Waterbus: Billy Bustard said business is up 20% but this is primarily due to day specials for schools, senior citizens and private parties. The increase in business is not due to tourists which he feels are less on the ground.

Railway Society: Anne Temple said that business was up 30% in June, with July just holding its own. She puts this good performance down to extra marketing with flyers being distributed around the town. The Centre also hosted a wine and cheese reception for all the B&B ladies, which went down very well.

Schooners Bar: Eddie said overall figures were down by 30%-40% in bar and accommodation business - the cause being F & M. He also feels that Donegal has no family amenities to cover for the poor climate. He mentioned we should have more bus tours leaving the town as the only one leaves at 10.05am. Eddie said there was a new Committee set up to deal with tourism problems but so far what have they addressed? He also went on to say that the B & Bs were complaining about the season but were doing nothing about it. Eddie said that from Monday to Friday Schooners has traditional music but claimed it would not be a good idea to start the entertainment earlier. If he did the tourists would leave the bar at 10pm. when the usual customers were only coming in. He emphasised how important the Northern business was to the town.

So this a sample of provider sentiment taken in town yesterday. There is much anger in the area at what is seen as the Chairman of the region trying to talk up a bad situation. On N.W.R. Sean McEniff rubbished claims that there was a fall in tourism figures saying that there had never been as many people around. Influential figures in the hospitality industry have accused McEniff of being out of touch with the reality of the situation.

The Donegal Times, The Diamond, Donegal Town, Ireland

Tel: +353-73-22860 Fax: +353-73-22937