Address by the Vice-Chairman

Vice-Chairman of Carlow Tourism Fr Conn O’ Maoldhomhnaigh, Elected members, Board Directors of Carlow Tourism, members of Carlow Tourism, ladies and gentlemen. You are all very welcome to the twentieth AGM of Carlow Tourism which is a significant landmark for the organisation.

Speaking as an accommodation provider, we have had a very good season to date, and in terms of demand we have rebounded from the worst effects of COVID. I know that fellow accommodation providers have also experienced a very strong season. However, I am aware that this scenario wasn’t replicated for all in the sector with visitor attractions experiencing a particularly soft season not just in Carlow, but across the Ireland Ancient East region and beyond. Visitor numbers to festivals were also down in many cases.

Despite overall robust recovery, 2022 has been far from a typical tourism year which has affected consumption patterns to the benefit of some sectors of the industry more than others – many Irish people travelled abroad, having been unable to enjoy that experience for three years – and that most certainly affected visitor attractions and festivals.

On the accommodation front, the fact that so many hotel rooms are now being used to accommodate Ukrainian families has affected availability diverting business into areas like Carlow. Alone in Dublin over 5,000 hotel rooms are being used for Ukrainian families out of a bed stock of some 21,000 and many areas along the west coast are entirely dedicated to refugee accommodation. Also it is now anticipated that 2022 will finish with a significantly higher volume of overseas tourists than previously due to the strong nature of pent-up demand, deferred bookings, and restored air access. It is estimated that 5.8 million visitors arrived over the first eight months of the year, with Ireland now on course to welcome in the region of 7.5 million tourists in 2022 compared to 9.6 million in 2019.

At this time however, the outlook for tourism to Ireland over the coming year is very much clouded by evolving political and economic uncertainties. The industry faces a number of concerns which could seriously derail the current momentum for recovery to pre-pandemic levels. There is huge concern around the increasing cost of doing business in tourism, in particular energy. Staffing continues to be a critical challenge for us in a tight labour market. The sector lost staff during the pandemic and has had difficulty in filling many positions since re-opening. Rising input costs and the very real possibility of a return to the 13.5% VAT rate will negatively affect the 2023 season and beyond.

In the midst of all of these concerns I do believe that Carlow will continue to be a destination where prices are held in check and value remains strong. I recall mentioning previously that the value to be enjoyed here will stand to our providers in the years ahead. Whether the claims of “price gouging” in some parts of the country are fair or not, the positive reaction by our many visitors this summer to the prices and value to be enjoyed here, was pronounced.

I want to stress again that tourism and hospitality is the big employer in Ireland and its role as a driver of regional growth cannot be forgotten either here in Carlow or elsewhere by government and relevant agencies. 1 in 10 jobs in Ireland are directly attributable to the tourism and hospitality sector.

You have all received a copy of our 2021 Annual Report which provides an in-depth account of the many and varied activities completed during the year. Eileen will go through some of these in more detail shortly. Highlights include the development of;

  • 55 videos covering members and the tourism story of the county from its river valleys to mountain tops
  • Re-branding of the county under the tagline “wander off the track” with the launch details being viewed by 3.6 million readers
  • A national digital campaign with in terms of social uplift, native content and ad impressions
  • Return of our festival programme with four festivals organised in 2021

In 2022 we are continuing our marketing drive to encourage people to explore Carlow and take short and longer breaks here through our wander off the track campaign in summer and autumn.

I mentioned at the start of my speech that this evening we are holding the 20th AGM of Carlow Tourism. The tourism sector is now mainstream in Carlow, recognised and endorsed by many for the quality of visitor experiences it offers, and the range and standard of facilities available not just to tourists but to local people. The organisation we see today is a great tribute to the forerunners of Carlow Tourism, Carlow Rural Tourism who in association with Teagasc, recognised the potential of tourism for County Carlow through the establishment of a dedicated body to oversee its progression. Equally the vibrancy of our sector is a tribute to Carlow County Council who some 21 years ago commissioned a report which saw the merger of Carlow Rural Tourism with statutory interests. The public and private aspect to Carlow Tourism has worked very positively and is the envy of many other counties.

Fundamentally however the success of Carlow Tourism is down to our members, who have invested, innovated, pivoted and turned over many years and continue to do so on a yearly basis to remain relevant and provide a high-quality experience to visitors. So much progress in tourism is within the hands of our members – in moving forward facing another uncertain year, I encourage businesses to retain and foster the strong spirit of co-operation and networking that is the main means by which we can retain visitors in the county and maximise their length of stay and spend for the benefit of all.

As always our thanks to our principal funders including Carlow County Council who, through its annual estimates programme provided €125,000 to the company and many other supports during 2021.

In 2022 we have worked closely with Carlow LEADER/LCDC to secure marketing support for our activities during the summer and autumn period.

We co-operate closely with Fáilte Ireland in respect of Carlow Tourist Office and of course in respect of tourism initiatives and plans for the county. We thank them gratefully for the involvement of the Carlow Garden Trail in the Digital that Delivers programme.

The Department of Social Protection has four CE placements in our office which are invaluable in progressing our own objectives.

In conclusion I want to thank our Vice-Chairman, Honorary Treasurer, Minute Taker, Chairs of our four sub-committees and all Board members along with the CEO and staff for their support and work throughout the last year and for their enthusiasm and belief in the strength of the tourism offering here.