Mayo’s visitor experiences and attractions must be allowed reopen their doors under Level 3 Covid-19 restrictions, in order to access the lifeline of a summer domestic tourism season.
That is according to the Association of Visitor Experiences and Attractions (AVEA ), who have this week warned that the survival of visitor experiences that are core to the fabric of Ireland’s cultural identity and tourism industry, is at a tipping point.
Expressing the concern of the association’s 85 members who currently are not permitted to reopen under Level 3 of the Government’s recently revised Covid-19 ‘Path Ahead Plan’, Chair of AVEA, Sean Connick said: "We are urgently calling on the Government to confirm the inclusion of visitor experiences and attractions (VEA ) as a named sector permitted to open under Level 3 when the country is ready to move to that stage.
"The opening of visitor attractions under Level 3 was correctly amended in November 2020, in line with other tourism, hospitality and retail businesses. It is our assumption that the non-inclusion of visitor attractions under Level 3 in the revised plan is a simple oversight by Government rather than a policy reversal.
"The VEA sector is set to miss another season of international travel, meaning two full years of lost revenue for our members. With the sector continuing to operate in survival mode, it is critical that visitor attractions are given the desperately-needed lifeline of access to domestic tourism during the summer months.
"This is the only market the sector can depend on and given the cautious approach by Government to lifting restrictions which AVEA supports, it’s likely the domestic season will run for an extremely limited period, with capacity curtailed significantly due to operational restrictions.
"According to Fáilte Ireland, AVEA members rank among some of the country’s most popular visitor experiences and include several Mayo based attractions such as Foxford Woollen Mills, Kylemore Abbey and Gardens, the National Museum of Ireland Country Life, and Westport House."
Commenting on the ability of Mayo’s VEA sector to act as a leader in adhering to public health guidelines and operate safe environments for visitors and staff, Mr Connick said: "In spite of very low levels of demand, our members in Mayo and across Ireland have worked incredibly hard to reopen safely when permitted to do so, protecting our people, and securing as many of their jobs as possible.
"Mayo’s visitor attractions are perfectly positioned to reopen safely under Level 3, having made significant investment in implementing visitor and staff safety measures. These include the roll-out of staff training under the Fáilte Ireland Covid-19 Safety Charter.
"Mayo’s visitor attractions are professionally controlled spaces and are highly experienced in managing the flow of people, with most operating online booking systems allowing for detailed capacity management. Visitor attractions are very spacious places, with many primarily operating in an outdoor setting. The guided tour element that most of our members operate also acts as an additional safety measure ensuring that members of the public do not congregate or stand stationary while visiting.
"These are safety measures you do not get in a retail setting. It is our belief that non-essential retail could have 10 times more visitors daily in smaller and more congested spaces than our largest indoor heritage and cultural attractions. In addition, our members are obliged to operate a full contact track and trace system, unlike retail.”
Commenting on the importance of maintaining the physical and intellectual assets core to the success of Mayo’s visitor experiences, head of commercial development at Westport House, Biddy Hughes, said: "The VEA sector forms a vital cog in the overall marketing strategy for positioning Mayo as an attractive international tourism destination.
"There is a pivotal need to ensure that our visitor experiences are primed and ready to drive international tourism recovery once travel resumes. If we are anyway serious about retaining the unique selling point and identity of our cultural experience offering to international visitors, we cannot allow Mayo’s visitor experiences to fail and disappear due to financial losses incurred because of Covid-19.
"Government must recognise the essential need to keep the operations of our visitor experiences ticking over by allowing them to reopen for the 2021 domestic season.
"Not only will this help maintain the physical resources and infrastructure vital to the county’s future tourism strategy, but it will also help protect the sectors most important asset – our people.
"As visitor attractions face a second crushing year without international tourism, there is a real risk that the talent so vital to the success of the sector will start looking at alternative career options. Without the breadth of enthusiasm, knowledge, and passion of those at the forefront of our visitor experiences, we simply cannot guarantee the same quality of product offering to international tourists when markets reopen."