Tourist attractions in Ireland have started receiving comments such as ‘herded like cattle’ and ‘queuing for hours’, an inaugural conference of venue operators heard.
Reviews made on international websites such as TripAdvisor have the potential to harm tourism, but must be understood in light of authentic visitor experiences as sites struggle to keep up with demand.
That’s according to Mark Henry, Central Marketing Director of Tourism Ireland, who told the inaugural conference of the Association of Visitor Experiences and Attractions that operators need to maintain good experiences for visitors.
Some major attractions are starting to get feedback “about poor visitor experiences because of the crowds”, he said. But, in a question-and-answer session, he said capacity issues at major tourist attractions could provide opportunities for separate, ancillary attractions. He said around 30 diverse tourism businesses had developed in various parts of Northern Ireland around the fame of game of throneswhich was filmed on location.
Paddy Mathews, attractions manager at Fáilte Ireland, said OPW attractions in Newgrange, Kilmainham Gaol and Dublin Castle had started using an online booking system to manage demand. This is something the independent sector should look into, he suggested.
Charles Coyle, managing director of Tayto Park, told the conference how the rapid growth of the Co Meath attraction has been “an incredible shock”.
Mr Coyle said initial operations were so slow that the park’s founder, snack bar entrepreneur Ray Coyle, joked about the snowy attraction in November 2010: ‘What have we done? You can’t even turn it into a nursing home.
But Charles Coyle said when the growth came it was more than the company was supposed to handle. He said visitor numbers hit 4,500 in one day and the management team scrambled to keep pace – ‘and our big hope was 160,000 visitors a year’ – the number hit 300 000.
In 2012, Mr Coyle said the number had risen to 390,000, but visitors were queuing for food, queuing for toilets, and there was a real fear that people would never return. In 2014, with new attractions and a redesigned park, the number of visitors reached 450,000 and one day in 2015 there were 12,500 visitors. In 2016, Tayto Park expanded its facilities and the following year the number of visitors reached 770,300. “.
Summarizing the rapid demand experience, he said, “If you don’t give people good value, they’ll be tough and they won’t come back.”