Castlebar can expect a welcome boost to the local economy next weekend with well in excess of 1,500 delegates expected to attend the Fine Gael National Conference in the Mayo Convention Centre at the TF Royal Hotel.
A bi-annual, national, event, the conference on Friday and Saturday, February 20 and 21, will see party members from all over Ireland, senior ministers, and An Taoiseach Enda Kenny spend the weekend brainstorming policy matters and party strategy for the next 12 months.
Local hotels are booked to capacity as delegates will be staying over the weekend and many are likely to extend their stay further to tour the area when their official business in Castlebar is complete.
The conference is the first major national event hosted at the Mayo Convention Centre since management at the TF Royal Hotel & Theatre and the adjoining Harlequin Hotel unveiled plans in June 2014 to brand and market the ‘Royal Quarter’ to target the lucrative business tourism sector.
According to Louise Tolerton from Failte Ireland, the business tourism sector, which is experiencing strong growth, is worth some €579 million annually to the Irish tourism market and supports 19,000 jobs.
“It is one of the highest yield sectors in tourism,” explained Ms Tolerton. “Business tourists spend up to three times more than a leisure tourist and stay longer. Following their business stay, many tourists will then extend their visit by a few days to tour the locality themselves.”
Declan Durcan, marketing director at the Royal Theatre, said the plan is to put Castlebar on the map as an ideal location to host large-scale business conferences and conventions.
“We have four distinct advantages to attract these events,” said Mr Durcan. “We have 2,500 seats in the Royal Theatre, which not many other venues can offer. We have on-site accommodation with ample additional accommodation available in the close locality; we have ease of access, with a direct rail link to Dublin and we are located within just a one-hour flight from all of the major UK airports into Knock.
“The fourth advantage, which a lot of people overlook, is that the west of Ireland is a very desirable location. Delegates are spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing a location for a convention so they will usually look at what’s on offer outside of the convention facilities as well, and more often than not, that’s what seals the deal.”
President of Castlebar Chamber of Commerce, Sylvester Jennings, said the Fine Gael conference is a good opportunity to “showcase all that Castlebar has to offer”.
“Castlebar, and the Mayo Convention Centre at the Royal Quarter, is a prime location for the hosting of these kinds of conferences and events and we have no doubt this will be evident to all of those who attend, and to the large audience who will be tuning in as sessions and talks are televised live on RTÉ,” explained Mr Jennings.
The next major event at the Mayo Convention Centre is the Irish Association of Barbershop Singers convention in October, which will bring 1,000 delegates to Castlebar for three days.