How can we improve the experience for tourists in Ireland?

John McKenna suggests that it is possible to offer "really memorable and unique" low-budget experiences for visitors

How can we improve the experience for tourists in Ireland?

People walk along the Inch Beach near Inch (Counnty Kerry). Picture by: Rolf Haid/DPA/PA Images

Figures have consistently shown that tourism remains one of Ireland's most enduring industries.

CSO figures for the first three months of the year showed the number of trips to Ireland increased by 0.6% (albeit with small dips in the number of British and European tourists), while major international campaigns have been launched to attract more visitors. 

But for all the attention given to the Wild Atlantic Way and Dublin, is the rest of the country suffering as a result? 

John McKenna from Guides.ie spoke to Newstalk Breakfast about the current situation in Ireland.

He suggested that a modern tourist can be a 'hard beast to satisfy'.

He observed: "Whether you're serving them dinner, or you're making them a cup of coffee, they actually want a world class experience. Even the simplest thing now has to be an experience, it has to be experiential.

"The danger is, for the modern traveller in Ireland, that you have one great experience, you go somewhere else, and you have an indifferent experience."

John argued that an indifferent experience can often linger in the memory longer than an exceptional one.

However, he also stressed that this is not all about offering a lavish or expensive experience - and resources devoted to food or staffing can be much more impactful than pumping money into decor. 

"Lots of places have shown that you can serve really excellent food in simple settings [...] Even though it's a fairly low-budget experience, you can have something really memorable and unique.

"If people achieve that, then the traveller, the tourist, the customer really goes away happy [...] It's not a question of money. It's a question of giving a really memorable, unforgettable experience - no matter how simple the setting, and no matter how simple the thing you're actually doing."

"You can turn anywhere around"

According to John, one of the issues with the dominance of tourist hotspots like Galway, Dingle or Kinsale is that it can be difficult for other areas - such as those in the midlands - to make an impact. But it doesn't have to be that way.

He said: "Galway provides an example of why you should always have hope for the future. It used to be a terrible city to eat, and I would argue that nowadays it's perhaps one of the best cities in the world in which to eat.

"Given enough talent and given a short period of time, you can turn anywhere around. You can get that tourist dollar, and you can get them to stay and contribute to the local economy - and then it's win-win."

John does not believe the price for Irish restaurants is as high as some would suggest - he cites Dublin's Chapter One as a high-quality eatery that is much more affordable than you'd find in other major European cities - but the situation is different when it comes to accommodation.

"I think hotel prices are dear in comparison to mainland Europe - not obviously like somewhere like London," he noted. "Certainly we know that the rates for rooms, particularly in Dublin, has been creeping up insidiously and relentlessly.

"It worries me when rates start to creep up, and it leaves people with less money to spend on food and drink. We need to get a balance between the two things, and I'm not so sure that's happening," he concluded.