A host of new events and festivals in Castlebar this year has helped to boost visitor numbers to the county town.
The town’s first dedicated tourism and events coordinator Michael Baynes, of Castlebar Chamber, outlined in a report this week that the local tourist office has recorded a 10 per cent increase in overseas visitors using the facility in 2014.
He also said domestic visitors continue to be the biggest generator of tourism to the town, as they come in their thousands to enjoy a holiday, a particular event, to visit family or to take part in a sports related activity.
“The tourist office in Castlebar keeps records of all that seek help there but this is only a small percentage of the visitors to the town, as many help themselves,” explained Mr Baynes.
“We found that overseas visitors to the county town are up about 10 per cent in the year to date compared with the same period in 2013. North American visitor numbers are up for the second year in a row, by 12 per cent.
“Britian too, for the esecond year, is a growing market and figures show an increase of eight per cent,” he added.
Mr Baynes pointed to 15 key events and festivals, both established and new, which were held between March and September, and which boosted visitor numbers significantly.
The events included the St Patrick’s Day celebrations, the Féile na Tuaithe family festival at the Museum of Country Life, Turlough, the Connacht Fleadh, the Heart of Castlebar street festival, the International Four Day Walks, the GAA’s national handball finals, World War I commemoration events, a new Bonamh Market and Heritage Day at Rush Street, the Mayo International Choral Festival and the CRN World Dancing Championships.
The World Dancing Championships alone brought 2,000 new visitors to Castlebar and contributed in the region of €200,000 to the local economy, according to Mr Baynes.
Mr Baynes was appointed as the tourism officer and events coordinator through funding from the former Castlebar Town Council to Castlebar Chamber of Commerce.
His role is to work with existing and new festival organisers and support tourism related events and activities.
“Last year, the success of In Humbert’s Footsteps, which attracted 15,000 people to the town, showed that if we can come together as a group, use what is already there and approach a project in a united and progressive manner, anything can be achieved,” said Mr Baynes.
Mr Baynes said voluntary groups such as Love Castlebar and Tidy Towns are making major contributions to developing Castlebar’s tourist product.
Love Castlebar has a team of volunteers who act as ‘welcome ambassadors’ to improve the visitor experience.
Meanwhile, the Tidy Towns committee this year recorded a strong improvement in the overall score for the town, which highlights Castlebar’s appeal as a vibrant, clean and pleasant town.
“Speaking in this office to the suppliers in the tourism industry in Castlebar, there is a general agreement that 2014 has been the best year since the downturn six years ago,” said Mr Baynes.
“Looking back on the many events held this year, it is clear that these have been successful and have brought thousands of people to the town. When events appeal to the public, are professionally run, family friendly, safe and give value, they will be successful.”
Mr Baynes said there are strong, early indications that next year will see further positive development in the town’s tourism offerings.
He pointed to the planned National Outdoor Pursuits Academy, a €12.5 million project expected to commence early next year.
“This will be a top class destination in the sporting and athletics scene in Ireland.”
He also said festival organisers are already planning next year’s events.
“The Mayo International Choral Festival has increased numbers for next year, the CRN World Dancing Championship is returning, and the organisers of the Connacht Fleadh are looking at the possibility of applying for the All Ireland,” he outlined.
He said the Bonamh Market will held again next year and will expand and the potential of the Military Barracks as an event site is being pursued by Mayo County Council in a meaningful way.
“The Greenway linking Castlebar to Turlough House is to open soon, the Irish Association of Barbershop Singers have chosen Castlebar as their venue in 2015 for their annual convention, the TF Royal has a list of performances increasing every day, Breaffy House has new owners, Love Castlebar has many plans for the town, plans are afoot for Féile Na Tuaithe, Dancing At The Crossroads are talking to a headline act for next June and the GAA Handball All Ireland will proceed in Castlebar again next July,” continued Mr Baynes.
“This is very promising and an encouragement to anyone investing in the town or making a living in the town.”