With visitor numbers to Athlone Castle continuing to rise year on year, it is estimated that some 27,500 people will visit the attraction in 2017.
Footfall in the castle has risen steadily since it reopened following extensive renovations in 2013. In its first year, 18,755 visited the castle, while in 2016 numbers had risen to 25,655.
The castle’s income has increased in line with this, last year taking in €131,563.
Manager of Athlone Arts and Heritage Carmel Duffy told councillors on Monday that visitor numbers are expected to take a big leap upwards in the next two to three years, but that “they will plateau, as we have a maximum capacity”.
When questioned on this by Cllr John Dolan, Ms Duffy estimated that the castle’s annual capacity would be between 30,000 and 40,000, but that this could increase if more can be done to attract visitors during the off-peak season.
Some councillors expressed concern that the current marketing budget of €18,500 for the castle is too modest.
“With expenditure of €548,000, the €18,500 earmarked for marketing is just 3.4 per cent. It is too little and I would propose 10 per cent for a product like this,” said Cllr Michael O’Brien, and Cllr Una D’Arcy agreed.
While Ms Duffy said that is likely to increase in the coming years, management were trying to take advantage of avenues where there is minimal spend involved:
“For example, the Aer Lingus magazine featured a piece on the castle; we are trying to use our expertise and time to capitalise on opportunities. We are working closely with Destination Athlone and aligning with various strands of Fáilte Ireland’s ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’.”
Recent developments to enhance the visitor experience include the introduction of multi-lingual audio guides, made possible by a Fáilte Ireland grant of €75,000. This has enabled the castle to actively target the overseas market.
Period costumes, dress-up areas, costumed guided tours, and enhanced interpretative signage have also been provided. During the 2017 peak season scheduled guided tours are planned to run twice a day for a trial period.
A new website will also be up and running in the coming weeks, and a broader range of merchandise is being developed.