Photo by Zuzia Whelan

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Walking tours are blocking pavements and they need to be regulated, said independent Councillor Mannix Flynn, at Wednesday’s South Central Area Committee meeting.

People often can’t get by, he says. His solution? Cap the numbers in each group and license tour operators, he said, in a motion that other councillors backed.

Not all of them thought it was a good idea. Worried about over-regulation, Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey suggested talks to tour operators instead, advising them how best not to crowd footpaths.

Those who run paid walking tours in the city say it’s the free walking tours that have worsened the problem of overcrowded pavements.

Others say it’s because the city’s attractions are concentrated in a small area, and more need to be spread out.

More Regulation?

“You can’t help but notice it in the city centre area,” says Flynn. “It’s ad hoc-ly organised; there’s no regulation.”

He says he has seen several very large tour groups and thought, “There’s no way you can control that amount of people.”

Lacey of Labour said he thought the way forward was simple chats with operators, first: “a bit more manners, a little less regulation”.

Restricting numbers could dampen the creativity of some tours, Lacey says. A tour operator could instead give “a one-minute talk, saying, ‘Make sure you’re not causing obstructions’”.

Says Flynn: “It’s about managing the public domain experience for all.”

Some don’t see walking tour groups as an issue at all. “They stop outside the shop for a few minutes to talk about the area, and then head off,” says Mark Haybyrne, who runs the Jam Art Factory in Temple Bar.

They’re good for Dublin, he says. “People get more into what Dublin has to offer and we might see them come back in the future if the history and culture of Dublin gets under their skin.”

Free Tours

The big game-changer for group size was the proliferation of “so-called free tours”, says Tommy Graham, founder of Historical Walking Tours of Dublin, which has been running since 1986.

The issue, he says, is that free walking tours encourage tips. So the pay of the guide depends on how many people are in the group. “We’re old-fashioned. We charge a rate and pay a rate,” says Graham.

Historical Walking Tours of Dublin caps its groups at 25 people. If numbers go over, they add a second or third guide to “pick up the slack”, says Graham. There are always a few walk-ons, but online booking makes numbers easy-ish to predict.

Pat Liddy of Pat Liddy’s Walking Tours would also be concerned about the potential for over-regulation, he says. But he thinks there should be some cap on numbers in groups.

“I want a free market, but the standards are low. That’s the regulation I want, so the visitor gets the best experience,” he says.

“I have no problem with free walking tours, except that they carry too many people. […] The guide has to maximize tips, that’s why they take a larger number of people,” he says.

Peter Gormley, of Yellow Umbrella Tours, a free walking tour company, says they always try their best not to block the footpath, and to cap groups at 25 people.

“We know we’re sharing the city. It’s not perfect, but we try our best,” he says. A different demographic take free tours rather than the paid tours, too.

Spreading out attractions in the city could help, says Graham of Historical Walking Tours of Dublin.

That way there wouldn’t be several tour groups competing for access in one area of the city. “It’s reaching saturation point,” he says.

He has seen it elsewhere, he says – in places where they now have caps on the number of visitors who can come by at any one time.

“The tourists want to go on the same routes, that’s what’s causing problems,” says Liddy. It’s the loop with Dublin Castle and Trinity College.

Fáilte Ireland has a plan that touches on that, working to spread tourism more evenly throughout the city, by promoting and creating more visitor attractions in neighbourhoods that, right now, are less popular with tourists.

“It’s how it’s being marketed. They won’t go to north Dublin or the Docklands,” says Liddy, who had to cancel three new tours around the Docklands, north Dublin, and a whiskey route this year, because they failed to draw enough people.

Zuzia Whelan

Zuzia Whelan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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