It was busy outside the EPIC museum in the Docklands on a recent overcast Tuesday afternoon.
People in suits scuttled past the triumphal arch on Custom House Quay. A couple of tourists gripped their maps of the city.
Christine Grant has so far been to EPIC and the National Museum of Ireland. She enjoyed her visits to both and found it easy to get from one to the other – although the dual-language Irish and English street signs confused her for a while, the Tennessean tourist says.
The Docklands is one of six areas across greater Dublin that those who work to bring tourists into the city are trying to develop to make more attractive to visitors, hoping that they’ll linger for longer and spend a bit more, and get around more smoothly.
To make this happen, they’re working on Visitor Experience Development Plans (VEDPs), which will be brought in over the next five years.
In addition to the Docklands, the other VEDPs will cover Dublin’s coastline and its six coastal villages; an area covering Phoenix Park, Kilmainham, the Liberties and Smithfield; the Dublin Mountains; the Dublin northside and airport; and the city centre, according to a Fáilte Ireland presentation to Dublin city councillors.
The development of these VEDPs will “drive the economic contribution of tourism in terms of volume and value and employment”, said Keelin Fagan, the head of Dublin for Fáilte Ireland.
Some councillors, though, raised concerns about “overtourism” and the impact it might have on communities if there are more visitors in the city.
Working on It
There’ll be three strands to the Docklands VEDP, says Mervyn Greene, CEO of EPIC: The Irish Emigration Museum, who has been involved in drawing it up.
The first focuses on branding the area and advertising it. The second is all about the state of the public realm, so whether there’s seating and bike lanes, and parking, he says.
Lastly, small businesses in the area need to stay open longer and at weekends, says Greene. So the neighbourhood isn’t a desert outside of work hours.
Giving tourists more activities to do will draw them out of the city centre, says Greene. “It’s an opportunity for Dublin to spread out, which means we can handle more tourists, and more people being able to have a nice experience.”
Rachael Kummert, director at WalkinDublin – a small guided-tour company in Dublin – says businesses in the Docklands would like there to be more opportunities in the area for tourists.
But “it needs to be managed, revenue can’t be the only thing; [it’s also important] that the quality of what is being offered is being monitored, and that people aren’t being ripped off”, she says.
Gerry Faye, who runs the K&A Stores off Oriel Street – and chairs the North Wall Community Association – says that while it sounds like a good idea, he is worried it will fall short.
More specifically, he’s worried that it won’t focus on the history and cultural heritage of the area, and so it will leave “indigenous communities” out and drive up property prices further.
Declan Byrne, the chairperson of the Dublin Dock Workers Preservation Society, is more enthusiastic. But he too wants to be sure the plan is inclusive. “I’d hate to think dock workers will be excluded from that history,” he says.
Focusing on return visitors and on the capacity of public transport would be ways to make sure the city’s tourism strategy is successful, says Deirdre Heney, the Fianna Fáil councillor.
Social Democrats Councillor Gary Gannon said similar. “Traditionally, tourists come to Dublin and don’t really come back. We need to see Dublin more as a city of culture, not as a city of partying.”
“The lived experience of Dublin is being eroded,” Gannon says, so the city needs more engaging cultural experiences, and not more hotels.
Gannon says that the VEDP idea lacks depth. “The idea of building a city for tourists is not really an intelligent strategy.”
“It’s all based on the idea of the tourist experience, but tourists want to experience the city the way people living here do,” he says.
How Much Tourism?
In 2017, overseas tourism revenue in Ireland came to €4.9 billion, with 230,000 jobs in the tourism sector, 8.9 million visitors, and €1.13 million in tax receipts for the tourism sector.
According to a presentation by the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation, they’re hoping to grow those figures to €8.1 billion in revenue, 310,000 jobs in tourism, 13.7 million visitors, and €1.86 billion in taxes by 2025.
It’s great to see loads of tourism in the city, says Fine Gael Councillor Anne Feeney. But she’s conscious now of the crowds when walking down the street. “We can get very excited about tourism, but we need to be careful, and manage it,” she says.
At the moment, Dublin City Council collects statistics such as airport arrivals, public transport trips, and average hotel rates as metrics of tourism, said a spokesperson for the council.
There are other ways to monitor tourism though. You can monitor it by tracking satisfactions levels among both visitors and residents over time and seeing how they change, says Katherine Webster, owner of tourism consultancy Kittiwake Solutions.
“The global challenge of tourism is the focus has been on the visitor and that their experience is good. That’s a growth model, but we have a mature visitor market in Ireland,” she says.
Overtourism happens when the impact of tourism outweighs the benefits for destination communities, particularly when visitors don’t stay overnight in the destination, says Webster.
With the growing popularity of tour buses, it’s a bigger issue outside the capital, she says. But it has the potential to be an issue in Dublin with more cruise ships coming into the bay.
In most cases, the economic benefit will outweigh the impact if people stay overnight, but increased accommodation stock – like hotels and Airbnb – also have an impact on the city’s housing crisis, she says.
For the past 12 years, Webster lead the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience, tripling turnover, and providing 150 direct jobs in 2017, but with “significant local impact”, she says.
James Chilton, director of the Irish Centre for Responsible Tourism, defines overtourism a little differently. He says it’s “when a lot of people want to do the same thing at the same time”.
The trick to managing tourism well is to pay attention to both communities and visitors, asking both what they want, and finding a balance, says Chilton.
Visitors sometimes “don’t think of these places as communities”, he says. So responsible tourism is “tourism that makes places better to live in, then, to visit – making tourism work for communities, not just tourists”.
Chilton doesn’t think the VEDP in the Docklands will increase tourism volume to the city overall, but spread some of it out to a new area. “It’s not about over-concentration, it’s about regulation,” he says.
“If you don’t find new places for tourists to go, overtourism in the city centre will become a crisis, so Dublin has no choice but to expand in different directions,” says Greene of the EPIC Museum.
“But the Docklands has a long way to go before it sees anything like what’s in the city centre,” he says.