The summer is upon us if one follows the Irish calendar, or, according to meteorologists, June is the starting point for the three summer months. No matter which is correct, Galway has come to expect a steady stream of tourists wanting to experience Galway’s unique atmosphere and cultural highs.
We must be grateful for the natural beauty of our city and county - Galway Bay, the Aran Islands that can bewitch and bewilder, the uniqueness of the Claddagh, and the beauty of Lough Corrib. Culturally we also have much to admire and enjoy - an unrivalled array of festivals - the Galway Arts Festival, film fleadh, the races, oyster festivals, and new this year a maritime festival based on power boating and, starting on the June Bank Holiday weekend, the Cuban Festival. Such entertainment has become an integral part of what Galway is - a vibrant destination guaranteed to entertain and renown throughout the world as the cultural capital of Ireland.
Many businesses that provide services to the visitors will benefit. Understandably, given the global economy, tourism numbers are not likely to reach the dizzy heights of the last 10 years and it is tempting to take advantage, pushing the prices up to capitalise.
Failte Ireland, which has a key role to play in both enticing visitors to Ireland and in keeping them happy, has already circulated a new customer care charter designed to reassure tourist affected by the continuing volcanic ash disruption. To date more than 600 hotels and bed and breakfasts have signed this charter which ensures those tourists affected will not be charged cancellation fees, while also agreeing to do all they can to facilitate disrupted customers by providing laundry services and internet access, and assisting with medical prescriptions and travel arrangements. Already in Galway the Radisson Blu Hotel has signed up - believed to be the first hotel group to adopt the Tourism Industry Visitor Charter "in the hope that it will help build confidence in our industry and in Ireland". They are to be commended, and hopefully many more businesses will follow suit to ensure visitors to Ireland, who have often in the past felt ripped off by inflated prices, can now enjoy the many delights the west has to offer without financial penalty.
As people take advantage of the warmer temperatures to spend more time outdoors, the city and county must also take action to ensure our geological and physical attractions are enhanced. At a time when the deadline for the Tidy Towns competitions is due to close, we should all take a look at our environment.
The Tidy Towns initiative, launched by Failte Ireland in 1958, fosters a valuable ethos - “to make your place a better place". While it encourages communities to improve their local environment and make their place a better place to live, it has had a valuable influence in helping to transform the landscape, fosters pride in the places we live, and has obvious spin-offs in reflecting Ireland as a country that takes pride in itself.
This is what will encourage tourists - not a county blighted by litter and graffiti. We pride ourselves on the natural beauty in the west, like the Burren and the Connemara National Park, but it is a concern that we lack botanical features befitting a city the size of Galway. It is a pity that in the last two decades many of our green areas have been covered in concrete.
Yet, if we keep our county tidy, our prices competitive, and provide a traditional Cead Mile Failte, the natural beauty of our county will shine through.