There are plans afoot to grow tourism in the Docklands – and Dublin city councillors recently got a first glimpse of Fáilte Ireland’s vision for how the neighbourhood should be developed to serve more visitors.
On Monday, Fáilte Ireland Dublin Manager Caroline O’Keeffe talked councillors in the South East Area through its “visitor experience development plan” (VEDP) for the neighbourhood.
The aim of the five-year plan is to build amenities to draw more tourists into the Docklands, and have them stay longer, and increase revenue, she said.
VEDPs are part of an effort to avoid overtourism, the agency has said in the past – by spreading tourists out from current hotspots into areas that they might not linger long in at the moment.
“It’s developing new experiences that are rooted in the locality, it’s about artistic and cultural visibility and that makes the area more inviting for people,” O’Keeffe said, at the council meeting.
Several councillors welcomed the idea of more tourism in the Docklands – although they raised issues around the gentrification of the wider neighbourhood and the lack of a role for councillors in feeding into, or overseeing, tourism plans.
In the Plan
O’Keeffe said Fáilte Ireland plans to develop “experiences” around a couple of key themes: the “maritime tapestry” of the area, and the Docklands as a “pioneering area”.
There’s lots of stories about innovation to tell, both historical and contemporary, she said.
At the Custom House, which will be the start of “The Docklands Experience”, the visitor’s centre is being upgraded following grants from Fáilte Ireland and the Office of Public Works, said O’Keeffe.
At the CHQ building, the owners are looking to have an Irish food market, she said. “That’s really appealing for tourists to learn about traditional dishes and futuristic propositions.”
Continuing down the north quays, there are plans for the public realm and “animating that”, she said. Down in the port, there’ll be a maritime museum, an arts, and theatre space, as well as tours by locals of the area “to show how the port has always worked”, she said.
Heading across the river to the south side, people can have lunch, she said. “Really engage with local people.”
There are plans for a festival in Windmill Lane studios that will incorporate arts, technology, and local musicians. They’ve been working with Windmill Lane to develop the stories and tours there, she said.
“Really what this project is about is to give people reasons to spend more time in this area, having connected themes,” said O’Keeffe. So they spend time and money in the area and learn about its culture, she said.
Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Conroy said she believes there needs to be better tourism in the Docklands, and that currently, the ground floors of buildings in the area are sterile.
There are just rows of foyers, rather than restaurants, cafes, or nightlife, Conroy says.
“For new development, I would like the city council to have more concern to the ground floor area of any new buildings where they should be more atmosphere, more night-time facilities, more daytime restaurants,” says Conroy.
While Labour Councillor Kevin Donoghue said he thought the presentation was good, he was concerned about the effect that increased tourism would have on the area.
“I think Ringsend, in the last couple of years, has suffered from gentrification when ‘tourism’ sometimes is just a €17 burger,” Donoghue said
“One of the things that I would like to see highlighted is the rich working-class history in Ringsend,” he said.
Fine Gael Councillor James Geoghegan asked O’Keeffe to give her comments on the white-water rafting facility planned for George’s Dock, and “how it fits into the overall plan”, he said.
“It [the white water rafting facility] is called out in the plan as a way to animate the area and bring people down into the area,” said O’Keeffe.
The Fáilte Ireland Press Office hasn’t responded yet to queries sent Tuesday as to whether it is giving the council grants towards the rafting project.
Last year, it granted €1.75 million to 11 projects in different parts of the city under its “Dublin’s Surprising Stories Grants Scheme”, to help them to develop their attractions.
It also plans to invest €150 million across the country between 2019 and 2022 in projects “that have the greatest potential to grow tourism across Ireland and throughout the year” – part of its ongoing tourism investment strategy.
Costs and Gains
Several councillors said they were concerned about what the increase in tourism means for the council’s budget for services.
“I have to point out that the more tourists you bring into this city, the more it costs the city council,” said Labour Councillor Mary Freehill.
It bumps up costs of footpath maintenance, drainage, and sewage, she said. “It’s the city council that pays for it.”
A hotel bed tax could help mitigate that, said Independents 4 Change Councillor Pat Dunne.
That’s a wish that councillors have voiced a lot, for years. It’s something the council’s finance committee is looking at this term – but it’s a measure that would need legislation from the central government.
A spokesperson for the Department of Finance said last week that its focus has been on setting the VAT rate in recent years, which was raised from 9 percent to 13.5 percent last year. “There are no plans to implement further changes to the sector at this time,” they said.
At the meeting, Dunne said he’d like Fáilte Ireland “to look seriously at how they can work with Dublin City Council in relation to deriving revenue for the city council for these types of infrastructural ongoing public realm places in the city”.
Said O’Keeffe: “In terms of a bedroom tax, that is probably decided at a higher level so I’ll note that for you.”
Who’s Shaping the City?
During her presentation, O’Keeffe ran through the ways in which Fáilte Ireland had gotten input from outside players, as it came up with its visitor experience development plan for the Docklands.
They canvassed visitors who said there wasn’t much to do in the neighbourhood beyond visit EPIC, the Irish Emigration Museum, she said. They wanted to engage more with the water and the “campshires”, said O’Keeffe.
They also spoke to those working in the industry, who wanted to see a more coordinated approach to tourism in the area, she said.
Also, they reached local residents through workshop, and coffees and chats, with community leaders – and knocking on doors in the wider neighbourhood to see what people want from this plan, said O’Keeffe.
Freehill, the Labour councillor, was critical of what she saw as a gap in all this consultation, though. “I too am very disappointed about the lack of democracy in all of this,” she said.
There’s no formal link between councillors and those deciding tourism policy, she said – citing similar issues with the lack of connection that councillors have to Waterways Ireland and the Office of Public Works.
“All of these are various quangos that are not at all connected with our democracy in this city,” Freehill said.
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