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The Irish Times, Monday, March 7, 1994
Drop Killarney, head for Donegal, Jim Dunne hears at a Berlin tourism fair
Package tours rejected by the man who brings fact-seeking Germans to Ireland
Christian Ludwig, a tour operator based in the Ruhr Valley, speaks knowledgably about the Downing Street Declaration and the initiative of the western bishops to stop the population heamorrhage in the counties west of the Shannon.
A participant at the International Tourism Bourse being held in Berlin, Mr. Ludwig is one of the most significant German tour operators in the Irish market. Last year, he brought about 10,000 Germans to Ireland, north and south. *
He is also a publisher, whose guide to Dublin includes a chapter on where to find Irish-speakers in the capital. Another chapter is devoted to 'Hiberno-Englisch and Dubliner Dialekt' and defines 'gurrier' for a German audience.
He admits in his early publications of Irland Journal to having an analysis of the Irish national problem not unlike that of Gerry Adams. 'That upset Bord Failte. I wouldn't say it quite like that again.'
Mr. Ludwig must be the only tour operator in the world to be opposed to package holidays. 'We all know the package scenario. Two weeks flight, hotel and possibly a few day-tour - all offered as one complete package. For a tour operator, it's the easiest thing in the world to organise.' The package holiday may be the softest money possible for a tour operator, but it does not satisfy Mr. Ludwig. The package holiday is inflexible, he says. It does not allow for the promotion of a particularly good pub or a fine fishing river. Mr. Ludwig was in Clonmacnoise two weeks ago and discovered by chance, he says, the existence of the 'Bord na Mona' train that explores a Co. Offaly bog. Clonmacnoise is known to the German market, said Mr. Ludwig, but the train - just seven miles away - is not, despite the appeal such a phenomenon would have to the enviromentally-concious German tourist to Ireland.
Only about 30 per cent of all Germans who visit Ireland come on package holidays, according to Mr. Ludwig. He criticises Irish state agencies such as Bord Failte for spending most of their promotional budgets on supporting tour operators.
Mr. Ludwig urges local communities to determine their own future in tourism. 'I think sometimes we place to much emphasis on funding,' he says. The north-west region alone has received 73 million Punts in EU and other money over the past five years. The money was very welcome, he adds, but 'I think we mustn't forget that the funding is only a means to an end - that of developing the region'
One example of funding obsession was the teacher in Donegal who was given the task of increasing the amount of music and singing available in local pubs, because a survey showed that this was what tourists wanted. 'He immediately sat down to prepare a proposal for EU funding for music equipment, etc. Until someone told him that, as a teacher, it would be much easier and cheaper for him to go round all the local schools and make sure that enough local children were availableto sing and dance at the local pubs:'
Mr. Ludwig believes that the conventional tourist attractions in Ireland are not attractive to many Germans. There is no charm in the traffic choked streets of Killarney in high summer or in trying to find parking within walking distance of the Cliffs of Moher. Mr. Ludwig's company, Gaeltacht Irland Reisen, promotes the 'Rainbow Route' to Ireland, taking in Northern Ireland and the Donegal Gaeltacht.
The 'Rainbow' traveller is on a mission of knowledge rather than pure recreation, according to Mr. Ludwig.
* Should have read: 20.000 (not 10.000)
The Irish Times - Saturday, January 20, 1996
A blitzkrieg on Germany
By JOHN BOLAND
GERMANS see the Irish as by far their most likeable European neighbours. So says Christian Ludwig, who has just concluded a week long trip to this country in the company of German journalists and adult educationalists. Their purpose? To acquaint themselves more fully with our people and ways prior to next autumn's Irish cultural blitz on Germany.
Christian, editor of the quarterly magazine irland journal (based in Essen), is among millions of Germans who are bracing themselves for Ireland and Its Diaspora, currently being organised by Lar Cassidy of the Arts Council, which will be the focal theme of the 1996 Frankfurt Book Fair.
They're also bracing themselves for sundry other Irish events - most notably A Day of Irish Life in Germany, which will take place in more than 500 German cities and towns on September 27th, but also a succession of poetry readings, theatre performances and what have you in the latter part of the year. All of this, Christian feels, 'will offer the greatest opportunity ever to represent Ireland in Germany, its most important continental market'.
But what will this literary orgy do to Ireland in the closing months of the year? By the looks of it, there won't be a solitary writer left at home. Can we bear the sense of quiet?
THAT Bible of the trade, The Bookseller, reports that Seamus Heaney returned from Stockholm 'with his £720,000 Nobel prize burning a hole in his pocket'. And, says the magazine, 'he shouldn't think twice about blowing it all at once, since it looks like he will be receiving a big cheque from his publisher, Faber, in the near future.'
How so? Well, sales of his books 'have increased 18 fold since he won the prize. Figures from Faber show that unit sales increased from 6,173 in October and November 1994 to 110,401 in the same period in 1995'.
The Bookseller piece also says that 'the Irish are buying anything with his name on it'. Not least, I might add, commercial companies offering Christmas presents to their clients - car firms, among many others, were giving gift wrapped Seamuses to motoring journalists and prestigious customers over the holiday period. Four Door Hatchback Into the Dark, no doubt, and Petrol Station Island.
LIKE policemen, writer seem to be getting younger every year, and at Thursday night's Orion reception in Dublin's Shelbourne hotel, I suddenly began to feel very old indeed. It was bad enough meeting Michael Collins, who is 31 but looks 20; it was worse meeting Lara Harte, who is 20 but looks 17.
Married to an American and living in Chicago, Michael casually informed me that when he's not writing fiction, he designs and installs computer systems. He started to explain the particular technology involved, but I had no idea what he was talking about - anyway, if he starts to make enough money from his books he's going to give all that up. His third book, a story collection called The Feminists Go Swimming, is due from Orion's Phoenix House imprint any day, and if you buy it you'll be helping him to achieve his goal.
Lara Harte is studying second year English and French in UCD and wrote her novel, First Time, when she was 18. She sent it to a prestigious London agent, but had no luck and posted it instead to Phoenix House, who accepted it immediately. Adolescence, she thought, was a neglected subject in literature, and her book, which will he published in March, explores what it feels like to be a teenager in Dublin. Her dad, writer Jack Harte, was more than happy to be overshadowed by her at the launch, though he has a hook of stories due from Dedalus Press in the summer.
This leaves me no space to do more than mention that among the other Orion authors at the launch were David Park, James Ryan and (last but very definitely not least) Maeve Binchy, besieged as ever by fans and giving them all her irrepressibly cheerful attention.
The Irish Times - Saturday, January 27, 1996
Irish festival at Frankfurt Book Fair faces funds shortfall
By VICTORIA WHITE
THE Ireland and its Diaspora festival, which is being planned as the theme element in the Frankfurt Book Fair in the autumn, is in jeopardy from a lack of funding. It is estimated that about Pounds 500,000 is needed to run the festival, and so far about half of that sum has been raised.
This includes a Government grant of Pounds 50,000 which came in the Budget last year, funding from the Arts Council, the Frankfurt Book Fair itself, and sponsorship from Ireland Journal, a German magazine, and Gaeltacht Reisen, a German travel company.
The festival director, Mr Lar Cassidy, Literature Officer with the Arts Council, and the festival board, chaired by Mr Adrian Munnelly, director of the Arts Council, have applications under consideration with a number of Government Departments and have made an application for European Regional Development Fund aid. They are also involved in a major sponsorship drive, and a committee has been formed to raise funds in the US.
They are hoping that the Government will match the funding which they manage to attract from other sources. There was no grant to the festival in this year's Budget. However, Mr Cassidy is optimistic, saying: 'I feel that the applications are under sympathetic consideration.'
Ireland was designated the bookfair's theme country in 1996 against strong competition. The fair is the largest cultural event of its kind in the world. Last year it attracted 320,000 visitors, and nearly 9,000 exhibitors from 97 countries.
The Irish pavilion is planned to be in a glass pavilion, purpose built last year when Austria was the theme country. It is hoped to host a major exhibition here on Ireland and its Diaspora through its literature, from the time of the medieval calligraphers on. A theatre will host talks and readings, and a radio studio will broadcast interviews with writers.
There will be a separate exhibition of 300 books from Ireland and its emigrant communities. Macnas will perform in the Book Fair Plaza every day. There will also be events linked to the theme throughout Germany and on a designated day in September, a festival celebrating Irish culture will take place in 500 locations.
'I am really seized with the importance of this opportunity. This is a major opportunity to present Ireland and its books to the world,' said the former minister Mr John Wilson, who is on the Arts Council, and is also on the Ireland and its Diaspora festival board. 'All the more so now that Seamus Heaney has won the Nobel Prize for Literature.'
The Irish Times - Thursday, February 15, 1996
Frankfurt: chance to shine shadowed by funding doubts
By LUKE CLANCY
DOUBT still hangs over the extent of Ireland's participation in October's Frankfurt Book Fair. This year, Ireland is scheduled to provide the local theme' of the fair, in the shape of 'Ireland and Its Diaspora', a festival within a festival celebrating Irish writing, music, film architecture, painting and theatre.
While most Irish publishers attend the fair as a matter of course, this special event should provide a major and prestigious platform for the country's artists . . . but the funds secured to pay for the special events involved continue to fall well short of what is needed.
What is in the balance is a festival which offers a unique opportunity to push Irish writers and Irish culture in general deep into the consciousness of Germany, and publishers worldwide. A great circular pavilion built for Austria last year would host a 600 square foot exhibition on Ireland and emigration as reflected in her literature, from the illuminated manuscripts on. This would be complemented by an exhibition of 300 books from Ireland and her emigrant communities. A theatre would host readings (Seamus Heaney has agreed in principle to participate), debates and discussions, and a radio station would broadcast highlights of the event. As many as 320,000 visitors and 9,500 accredited journalists are expected to come to Frankfurt, and a good number of these might be expected to help disseminate the story of Irish writing and other cultural media all over the world.
But some of the events originally planned will have to be greatly scaled down or dropped altogether unless further private sponsorship can be found at this late stage, to reach a minimum target of £500,000.
The core of the problem may be the lack of an effective agency to promote the Irish arts abroad, as noted in the Arts Council's Arts Plan 1995-97.
The Frankfurt programme has been developed by a board set up by the already chronically understaffed Arts Council, with some support from the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. The Cultural Relations Committee of the Department of Foreign Affairs, within whose brief this festival might have been expected to fall, is currently in limbo, awaiting the appointment of a new committee. Even when it is functioning, the CRC's budget, at £400,000 per annum for all Irish cultural ventures abroad, is now, more than ever, clearly inadequate for its brief.
The crucial aspect of the Frankfurt Book Fair for Irish publishers, according to Jo O'Donoghue, vice president of Cle, the Irish Book Publishers Association, is that it allows them to sell rights. Selling rights for the United States, for co editions and for translation allows publishers to boost their slim sales margins. The fair has the added bonus of allowing publishers to scout around for foreign rights they might like to buy for Ireland.
'Even though Irish publishers also go to the ABA (American Booksellers' Association), the London Book Fair and the Bologna Children's Book Fair, Frankfurt is the one everyone goes to except a few well known British cranks and poseurs,' O'Donoghue says.
Despite the prestige of the event, it has proved difficult to gather evidence of firm progress on funding the Irish focal theme programme.
It had been understood that a major sponsor was to be confirmed at the end of last week. But when a meeting between the Arts Council Literature Officer, Lar Cassidy (currently on secondment as director of the Frankfurt programme), and The Irish Times scheduled for last Friday was called off, indications did not seem to be good.
However, a spokesperson for the council later telephoned to say the project has been assured 'a very significant donation' to the overall fund. The spokesperson was not at liberty to say who the sponsor was, or what sum of money was involved and said it would be 'some time' before either of these details could be announced.
The cost of Ireland's involvement in the festival was originally estimated to be a minimum of £900,000, of which the board established by the Arts Council estimated it could raise around £450,000. Originally, the board believed this money could be matched elsewhere. Now they are saying that they can still mount a credible event for £500,000. However, the shortfall in their own fond raising to date still leaves them with about £250,000 to find to reach this new, reduced target at least until last week's mystery sponsor came on board. Ciaran Benson, chairman of the Arts Council, said this week he was very confident' this goal could be reached.
The other money raised includes a contribution, possibly repayable, from the Arts Council's own funds. There was also an initial grant of £50,000 from the Arts Department, and £100,000 has been allocated by German sponsors such as the magazine Ireland Journal and a travel firm, Gaeltacht Reisen, while US donations are in the region of £20,000.
According to a spokesman for the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, when the Arts Council informed the Department of Ireland's designation as focal theme for the Frankfurt Book Fair 'it was indicated that it was not the intention to seek funding from the Department because of its commitment already in 1996 to the L'Imaginaire Irlandais project'. This other promotion of Irish arts, scheduled for France later, in the year, has secured Irish government funding to the tune of £1.5 million.
Adrian Munnelly, director of the Arts Council and chair of the festival board, said last week he would have preferred if the initiative around the Frankfurt Book Fair had not overlapped with L'Imaginaire Irlandais. 'In fact, we made efforts to get 1997 for Frankfurt, but unfortunately it wasn't possible for the fair to shift Ireland into 1997, because others had already taken it. Clearly, it would be easier for everybody, all round, to have L'Imaginaire in 1996 and Frankfurt in 1997. We had to take the opportunity as it arose but I do believe that what both festivals demonstrate that there is huge opportunity,' Munnelly said last week.
'We knew there would be a shortage of funding because of L'Imaginaire, so, it was a worry,' says Hilary Kennedy, administrator of Cle and a member of the festival board. 'But when the fair authorities were so sure that they wanted a scaled down focal theme that they didn't want the brouhaha that went before we said we'd go with it and told them that it would be on a lower key and a smaller scale altogether.' Kennedy says the difficulties involved in securing funding were easy to anticipate. 'It has not been more difficult than we thought it would be just what we expected,' she says.
It is planned to hold a number of separate events under the banner of the 'Ireland and Its Diaspora' festival. The major events announced by the festival board are a large historical exhibition concerning Ireland and its diaspora daily street performances from Galway theatre troupe, Macnas a retrospective of the work of Sean Scully an exhibition of art from Northern Ireland a season of Irish film an exhibition of Irish 20th century architecture and a 'Day of Irish Life' a day of mini festivals and Irish focused events in September.
It is estimated that Austria, last years' focal theme nation, spent around £7 million. But this figure included the cost of building a new pavilion at the fair's site. A previous Brazilian presence at the event is said to have cost £4 million.
According to the organisers of the Netherlands' focal theme project in 1993 the budget which was in the region of £2.5 million was in place some 18 months before the event.
'The Dutch were very lucky to have their funding in place well in advance, but we aren't that lucky. It is an unfortunate thing that the Irish Government with a 12 per cent growth rate was not able to spit out more money, but there you are,' said Marianne McGeehan, chair of the German Organising Committee for the 'Ireland and Its Diaspora' festival.
UNTIL such time as I have funds for each particular project in place, and a sponsor agreed,' Munnelly said last week, 'it would be unfair to sponsors to mention figures.'
Figures do indeed seem to have been responsible for leaving some people reticent about their involvement with the project. The figure sought by the Irish organisers for a space at the main exhibit ion, a round £50,000, gave at least one potential sponsor pause for thought. 'Given the size of the space, and the amount of time the exhibition will run, I could not understand the cost they were asking for sponsoring a section of the exhibition,' said the potential sponsor so we're looking them over carefully . .
Events such as 'The Day of Irish Life' will, according to Ms McGeehan, be sponsored by German concerns. An exhibition of 20th century Irish architecture will be sponsored and hosted by the Architectural Museum of Frankfurt. The retrospective exhibition by Sean Scully has been confirmed for the Schirn Gallery in Frankfurt, under the auspices of the festival Scully is already a major figure on the international art scene, and this part of the festival has been organised by the gallery itself.
According to Munnelly, the sums spent by countries in previous years would reflect 'the size of the countries involved and the strength of their economy.
It would not reflect, in my view strength of their culture. In our case to where we win. We have an exceptionally strong culture. It's extremely respected in Europe. In fact, Ireland is something of a flavour of the month in Europe right now.'
'There is a lot more empathy in Germany towards the Irish focal theme than there has been before,' says Marianne McGeehan. On the German side, she has found no shortage of willing sponsors 'I mean, they couldn't give a damn about the Austrian focal theme last year, but this year everybody wants to be part of it.'
Hopefully, despite the lateness of the hour and the shortfall in funding, we will do ourselves justice and not disappoint such enthusiasts. But, when such an opportunity arises again, we should ensure we have the structures in place to exploit to the full.
The Irish Times - Tuesday, November 26, 1996
Filling a culture gap
By KYRAN FITZGERALD
CULTURE is big business nowadays. Firms operating under the culture and heritage banner now have a combined annual turnover of around £500 million.
They generate the equivalent of almost 35,000 full-time and part-time jobs, according to a recent report by Coopers and Lybrand.
However, other surveys have pointed to a lack of basic business and communications skills among the staff at Irish cultural venues.
Dundalk Regional Technical College has come up with a new diploma programme in Applied Cultural Studies with a view to filling some of the skill gaps in the sector. The programme is three years in duration with the course work spread over six semesters. There is a strong practical element built into the programme. Students will be expected to put on plays, participate in overseas exchanges and study marketing, finance and the emerging area of multimedia.
'The impetus for the diploma arose from our awareness that a gap exists in the provision of humanities courses in the North East,' says college registrar Stephen McManus. The initiative is a completely new departure for an institution which has concentrated on technical fields such as electronics since its establishment 25 years ago.
Dundalk RTC is keen to increase the number of females on its student roll. Currently 45 per cent of the students are women. McManus would like to see this figure rise to 50 per cent and he believes that the new diploma should be of help in this regard.
The college is in the middle of a major investment programme at present. There are ambitious plans for new library facilities for example.
It is consciously seeking to broaden its appeal, though programme co-ordinator Eileen Murphy points out that the new diploma course is strongly practical in focus and does not seek to replicate existing humanities degree programmes offered by other third-level institutions.
Forty students have signed on for the first year, about half of them from outside the Dundalk catchment area. The entry requirement was 280 points, which is high by Dundalk standards.
'The diploma programme is divided into four main strands,' says Murphy. 'The first covers Irish civilisation and heritage. The second deals with art, theatre and communication, the third with practical issues of organisation, finance and marketing and the final strand is centered on the teaching of languages.'
Course participants have to be fairly versatile. They will be expected to take part in archaeological field trips, make oral presentations using graphical displays, put on events, perform in plays or alternatively shoot films and participate in overseas student exchanges.
Eileen Murphy insists that the students will not be spreading themselves too thinly. She believes that they will emerge ready and equipped to head straight into the workplace.
By the end of the three-year period, it is anticipated that the first batch of students will be given the option of taking a degree after a further year's study. The college is building links with a number of institutions including Queen's University and the German cultural organisation, Gaeltacht Irland Reisen.
Students will attend courses in archaeological methods, landscape, information technology, finance for cultural enterprises, contemporary Irish politics and the Irish economy.
The number of tourists visiting Ireland is targeted to reach eight million by 2010. Even if this rather ambitious goal is not met, there should be plenty of work available in the myriad of culture-based industries. After all, over 100,000 people are now employed by special effects companies in California alone, while the audiovisual sector now dwarfs traditional American export earners such as the aerospace industry.
Says Stephen McManus: 'Demand for such skills is bound to grow. As countries such as Ireland become more affluent, the percentage spent on cultural activities will be on the increase.'
The Irish Times - Monday, August 25, 1997
Fleadh provides welcome boost for town amid reports of mixed tourist season
By UINSIONN MAC DUBHGHAILL
The thousands of traditional music fans who came to Ballina this weekend for Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann gave the town a welcome boost, as the peak tourism season draws to a close. According to the chief executive of Moy Valley Resources, Mr Billy Lewis, about 150,000 visitors were expected in the town for the festival.
Most of the available beds in Ballina have been booked out for weeks. By Friday morning people were being directed to accommodation up to 30 miles away. 'The bed situation is chronic,' he said.
After a poor start to the tourist season in June, the number of continental visitors to the Moy Valley area had picked up in recent weeks. His overall assessment was that it would prove to be a 'fair' season, despite what he described as Bord Failte's poor marketing of the west.
Mr Lewis said the Fleadh Cheoil would be worth about £7 million to the local economy. Despite this, Bord Failte had given it only a derisory marketing grant of £2,500, he said. 'Ireland does not stop at Dublin.'
In general, feedback about the season from tourism interests in the west is mixed. There is a consensus, however, that the number of German and French visitors is down on last year and that Bord Failte is wide of the mark with its 1997 forecast of a 7 per cent increase in numbers and a 9 per cent increase in revenue.
A number of those surveyed point out, however, that the 1996 season was an exceptionally good one for tourism in the west. They say there is no cause for panic, although there is a noticeable downturn in the number of German visitors.
Gaeltacht Irland Reisen, based in Moers, near Dusseldorf, is the second-largest German tour operator in the Irish market. Last year 23,500 Germans came to Ireland through the company.
Its director, Mr Christian Ludwig, said his numbers were probably down 5 per cent on last year, but said that other German operators were experiencing much bigger shortfalls. There were 'hundreds of reasons' for the downturn.
He said it would be simplistic to place all the blame on the two most commonly-accepted causes: the weak German economy and the 20 per cent rise in value of the Irish pound against the deutschmark over the past two years.
A more subtle reason for the change, Mr Ludwig said, was the excessive marketing of Ireland in Germany by Bord Failte and Aer Lingus. In every newspaper or magazine one picked up there was an advertisement promoting Ireland as a holiday destination. As a result, Ireland had lost its 'special status' among Germans as a place apart, somewhere different.
A cost-per-tourist analysis of the money spent promoting Ireland in Germany would work out at about DM400 per visitor, Mr Ludwig suggested. This was the same as the price of an Aer Lingus return ticket from Dusseldorf or Frankfurt to Dublin. 'The money would be better spent if you issued them with a free ticket,' he said.
A spokeswoman for Bord Failte said the board was making 'no change' on its predictions for 1997, despite the mounting weight of anecdotal evidence of a reduction in business. 'We seem to be on target,' she said.
Her optimism was not shared by a spokesman for Ireland West Tourism in Galway, Mr Martin Bradley. 'Some areas are doing reasonably well. Others, especially rural areas, say they are not doing as well as last year,' he said.
According to Mr Bradley, tourism interests in the Clifden area have reported a poor season. The view in Galway city is 'mixed', but the Aran Islands are 'not doing as well as last year'.
Feedback from Mayo suggested the county was 'probably holding its own, although some areas are down'. The exception was Westport, which was having a good season, he said.
The number of overseas visitors staying in farmhouse accommodation in the west had dropped unexpectedly, when compared to last year.
One foreign exchange operator had reported a downturn in business in the region. 'The spend all round doesn't seem to be as good as other years.'
Poor access remains a key issue for tourism interests in the west, according to Mr Bradley. He said he still believed the national tourism figures for 1997 would show an increase on last year, but added this would reflect a greater concentration of visitors in the east than before.
'Access to the country is getting more and more focused on the Dublin area. Airlines are selling Dublin more aggressively than they are promoting Shannon.' Knock Airport was 'holding its own' but Galway Airport was 'seriously struggling' because of this imbalance, Mr Bradley said.
The general manager of the Great Southern Hotel on Eyre Square in Galway, Ms Mary McKeon, said that after a slow start in July the hotel was having a reasonably good season.
Bookings for September looked strong, with the annual oyster festivals in the city and in Clarinbridge expected to attract overseas visitors. The strong sterling was also expected to give the season a late boost, especially from the North.
'We are quite pleased with the summer. Galway city has been quite busy, and there are still a great number of international visitors in the city,' she said. The increase in the numbers attending the Galway Races this year also proved a boost to tourism in the city.
The general manager of the Ardilaun Hotel in Galway, Mr Tom MacCarthy-O'Hea, said business at the hotel was 'on a par' with last year. Much of the Ardilaun's business comes from the corporate sector, which was 'very vibrant', and was less affected by the downturn in business from the continent, he said.
The general manager of the Rock Glen Hotel in Clifden, Ms Siobhan Roche, said business was 'down a little' compared to last year. 'The number of Germans is down, but we have a lot of French and Italians,' she said.
She pointed out, however, that last year was an exceptionally good year for tourism in the west. Even allowing for the reduction, the figures looked reasonable for the 1997 season. 'It still has been a good year,' she said.
The owner of Westport House, Lord Altamont, said his business was thriving, with an overall increase in numbers of 13 per cent this year.
Most of his business is from the domestic market, with family groups forming the largest part. The family segment of the market had shown an 'extraordinary' 25 per cent increase, he said.
'Personally, we're very pleased. Different organisations have different markets, and our market is the family market. We're the major family attraction in Connacht,' he said.
Westport House caters for approximately 12,000 overnight visitors a year, in self-catering accommodation or in caravans. A 'very considerable portion' of these visitors come from Northern Ireland. The increase in this sector was in the order of 21 per cent.
Generally, however, the feeling in the town, especially from those dependent on overseas visitors, was that 1997 would prove a 'very disappointing' season, Lord Altamont said.
Many of these tourists found Ireland, particularly the west, too expensive to get to. 'I'm sure Bord Failte will pull figures out of the bag which will prove to us all that the numbers are up. If that is the case, they are all going to Dublin. They are certainly not coming to Connacht,' he said.
The director of Oideas Gael in the Donegal Gaeltacht, Mr Liam O Cuinneagain, said demand for his language and culture courses had increased strongly again this year, following several years of sustained growth.
The cultural centre in Gleann Cholm Cille attracts Irish-language students from all over the world. It also caters for people wishing to partake in set dancing, bodhran playing, hill walking and other activities.
Ninety-five people were attending courses there last week - including the centre's first student from Latvia - compared with 67 students during the same week last year. 'Is e an sceal ceanna e don tseachtain seo chugainn,' he said.
Mr O Cuinneagain attended the recent Irish Fest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the largest annual Irish festival in the United States.
The attendance at the Irish Fest usually comes in at about 100,000, but this year it was down slightly at 96,000, he said.
A talking point among tour operators in Milwaukee was the ending of the American Trans Air flights from Chicago to Shannon earlier this year.
ATA offered very competitive rates, with flights between $450 and $500, whereas the Aer Lingus rates were much more expensive.
'People are complaining that Bord Failte is spending millions of pounds on big tourism promotions in the United States, but the flights are too expensive,' he said in Irish.
Aer Lingus was operating flights from Chicago to Dublin and on to Shannon for between $900 and $1,000. 'Aer Lingus have taken in the Shannon route and they have obviously edged out ATA,' he said.
US-based tour operators were angry at the increased prices. A spokeswoman for Aer Lingus dismissed Mr O Cuinneagain' s claims and said the airline's fares were roughly the same as last year.
Aer Lingus had increased the number of its flights to Shannon by 14 per cent this year, with the addition of a new route from the US. The overall passenger numbers flying Aer Lingus to Shannon were up by 8 per cent, she said.
The Irish Times - Thursday, January 25, 2001
Report highlights need for coherent tourism marketing strategy
The tourism potential of the south-west midlands will remain virtually untapped unless a coherent marketing approach is aimed at specific national and international markets, a pilot tourist project in the region has found. The conclusions of the final report on the En-Route Mid-Ireland project were discussed at a seminar in Tullamore this week by more than 100 tourism service providers, tour operators and local authority officials.
The report highlighted a number of serious obstacles to the development of tourism in Offaly and surrounding areas.
The En-Route project was designed to channel traffic away from the gridlocked national primary routes (N6 and N7) which skirt the northern and southern edges of Offaly and into less-visited attractions within the county.
In particular, it examined the viability of an alternative touring route along the N52 and N62 linking Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath, Tullamore and Birr, Co Offaly, and Roscrea. The project is funded under the EU Operational Programme for Tourism with support from Offaly County Council and Shannon Development.
The final report concludes that intensive sign-posting, promotional activities and marketing had established an awareness of the pilot touring route within the tourist trade locally.
However, the report also states that the proposed route itself, with sight-seeing qualities which were described as 'at best low key', could not realistically compete for visitors until the overall region is first established as a tourist attraction.
Mr Christian Ludwig, head of Germany's largest independent tour operator, said that in the absence of an overall national tourism strategy, the success of local initiatives such as the En-route project would be purely random.
He also claimed that the media focus on the Celtic Tiger combined with a new approach to promoting high-yield Irish holidays had been 'a disaster' in the German markets.
Regular German visitors to Ireland who were attracted by its traditional romantic image were asking if they were still welcome in a country which now promoted its golf courses and spectacular restaurants.
The En-route project also unearthed a range of problems which beset the tourist trade in the midlands. According to the report, the tourist industry in the region is highly fragmented, lacks leadership and is over-focused on heritage attractions, to the detriment of the development of sports and leisure-related facilities.
Nonetheless, there is optimism that, with better research, greater co-operation and more professional branding, many of the 100,000 visitors who flock to Clonmacnoise annually can be enticed to explore the region fully.
The Irish Times - Monday, May 24, 2010
How will the church survive? That would be an ecumenical matter
MUNICH LETTER: Many attendees at a recent congress believe the Catholic Church will eventually have to reach out to its Christian siblings
IT WAS easy to spot the Christian cliches in Munich last weekend.
From Wednesday to Sunday the Bavarian capital hosted Germany's second ecumenical Kirchentag or church congress around the city and at the sprawling trade fair grounds.
In one of the halls in the trade grounds, happy-clappy cliched Christians with vacant smiles and tambourines a go-go tried in vain to clap in time with the Christian band on stage.
There is a temptation to turn and leave, but the 700-page programme bulges with some 3,000 events and surely not all of them involve tambourines.
Germany's Kirchentage are huge, bi-annual meetings of Catholics and Protestants that go back 162 and 61 years respectively. They are organised by lay organisations, and this is only the second time they have joined forces in the name of closer religious unity or ecumenism. Some 300,000 people attended an opening candlelit vigil, but the Kirchentag is more than just Masses for the masses.
The trade grounds hosted a lively fair promoting everything from religious books and church organs to monastery wine and T-shirts with slogans such as 'Prayboy' and 'Jesus Pimped My Life'.
'For me it's just another way of professing the gospels,' says Dieter Huber, owner of holyshirt.de. 'People come up and ask about a T-shirt and humour is so much better a way to get into conversation with people than hitting them over the head with the 'thou shalt not' cudgel'.
The shadow of clerical abuse hung over the congress: former abuse victims protested at one of the main events. In a panel discussion Fr Klaus Mertes, the Jesuit headmaster in Berlin who set in motion Germany's rolling abuse scandal, called for the end to the celibacy rule and for the ordination of women as priests.
Wunibald Müller, a psychologist and theologian, said the Catholic Church had 'developed a cult of personality conducive to abuse'.
Proving that personality cults are no Catholic speciality was the uncrowned queen of the Kirchentag , Margot Käßmann. Last February the popular bishop and theologian was stopped for drink driving and, after just four months in the job, resigned as head of the Evangelical Church of Germany, a federation of Protestant churches.
After 80 days in the wilderness, her return in Munich was a frontpage tabloid sensation: 'Käßmann greeted like a star!'
She didn't disappoint: her lectures were by far the biggest draw of the Kirchentag and at one she delivered a killer soundbite when she described the contraceptive pill as 'a gift from God'.
The lecture programme offered plenty of intellectual stimulation, with talks on everything from globalisation and energy security to micro-credit and ageing European societies.
A special 'House of Ireland' was organised by German-Irish travel agent Christian Ludwig, where events included a discussion on peace in Northern Ireland with Danny Morrison and Irish Ambassador to Germany Dan Mulhall.
Considering the shock of the ongoing abuse scandal and the extensive media coverage, the overriding atmosphere at events was one of pragmatism rather than defeat, depression or anger.
'People are realising again that Christianity isn't an institution but a movement of people on a journey together,' said Sr Ulrike Soegtrop from the Burg Dinklage, a convent north of Osnabrück.
'I think the revival in pilgrimages shows that.'
There was another side to that pragmatism, particularly among the many young people present.
'I enjoy the feeling of a community here. There's a great atmosphere. But, though I'm baptised, I don't think this'll bring me back to the church next Sunday,' said Roland (22) from Cologne. 'I have other outlets like scouts and social work and I don't think I need the church to find meaning in my life.'
At the end of the congress, organisers expressed disappointment, if not surprise, that, as expected, the Catholic Church had declined to allow a joint Mass and Communion.
A common view among departing attendees was that declining church attendances and other pressures will eventually force the Catholic Church to reach out to its Christian siblings. At the very least, Germany's Catholic lay organisation said they would like a rule to cover joint Communion for couples in cross-confessional marriages.
'My feeling talking to Catholic bishops is that they are impatient, that we'd be a lot further on the road to true ecumenism if it weren't for Rome,' said Herbert Schreiber (60), a Catholic from the western city of Hamm.
Germany's Catholic bishops have seven years to ponder their next move before the next ecumenical church day in 2017 - 500 years after Martin Luther's theses caused the rupture with Rome.
The overwhelming sense as Munich's ecumenical church congress ended was that, on almost every issue, the future of Europe's Christian churches lie together rather than apart.
As Fr Jack from Father Ted put it: 'That would be an ecumenical matter.'
The Irish Times - Saturday, October 23, 2010
Germany wants more Irish culture. Why can't we deliver?
Irish traditional arts are hugely popular in many regions of Europe, yet somehow we don't seem able to make the most of our unique cultural selling point, writes Derek Scally in Berlin.
IF THE bust of Felix Mendelssohn had feet they would have been tapping along with the music echoing through the vaulted hall below the Irish Embassy in Berlin. In the old home of the Mendelssohn Bank, the new traditional Irish music group Cirrus give it their all and soon even the German junior minister in row two is jiggling his foot in time with the music.
The evening is a welcome distraction from the doom and gloom about Ireland in the German media, but it's not quite what it seems. The Irish Embassy has provided the venue and Tourism Ireland some funding, but this evening's event is to promote the sixth annual TradFest in Temple Bar next January, a private initiative with minimal public funding. 'It's interesting that it's taken a group of hoteliers, publicans and restaurateurs to put their heads together for this,' says Martin Harte, managing director of Temple Bar Traders. 'Rather than just talking about it, they've all put their hands in their pocket to put this on.'
This is a common story. Government agencies do tremendous work promoting Ireland abroad but, looking in from outside, there appears to be a worrying gap between the reality and the lip service the State pays to promoting what makes Ireland uniquely Irish.
Efforts to promote traditional Irish arts abroad - surely a unique selling point in the crowded tourism market - are disorganised and largely reliant on volunteer work.
Take Germany, where the hunger for Irish culture is almost insatiable, as Moya Brennan knows well. She has been coming here for 30 years, first with Clannad and now with her solo programme. In Berlin to help push the TradFest, she says the enthusiasm she always feels in Germany for traditional Irish arts is in stark contrast to an apathy she feels at home.
'We need more things like Tradfest, so people who come to Ireland looking for traditional music don't go home disappointed, which happens all the time,' she says. 'When others are so enthusiastic about your culture, though, it's very easy to become complacent.'
A 2009 Tourism Ireland survey showed that Irish culture and history is the third most cited reason visitors come to Ireland, after the people and the scenery. But more than one-third of respondents 'agreed strongly' that Ireland is a 'unique holiday destination', offering things they cannot experience anywhere else.
So either Ireland has nothing unique to offer two-thirds of its visitors, which is unlikely to be the case, or Ireland could do more to push what makes it unique, such as the traditional arts.
For a German with an interest in Irish culture, planning a holiday to the island is a daunting business. The official Irish tourism website offers a good overview of popular haunts but is no help in making detailed plans.
Thankfully there are diligent Germans prepared to fill in the gaps. For nearly 30 years Christian Ludwig has sent more than 20,000 German tourists to Ireland annually through his travel agency. Since 1990 he has published the quarterly Irland Journal, a glossy magazine filled with political, cultural and historical articles about the island.
He sees the hundreds of traditional Irish music gigs around Germany each year as a potential stepping stone to an Ireland visit, so each edition of his magazine contains nine pages of listings of dozens of Irish music dates in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Despite some successful collaborations with Irish State agencies, many of his applications for financial support from Dublin for his projects have been turned down over the years.
When he printed 40,000 brochures containing Irish music listings for Germany, he couldn't keep up with demand. A request for funding to help finance a second print run was refused by Dublin, he says, with the explanation: 'We don't support brochures.' With friends he has put together a website called Celtic Music Net as a kind of traditional-music Wikipedia, allowing bands, promoters and fans to upload biographical information, gig news and CD release dates.
He says his application for funding to translate and develop the German-language website in English was rebuffed with the words: 'We don't support websites.' Three State agencies have a role in promoting traditional music, so what do they do abroad? Culture Ireland says it has identified traditional arts and music as a priority area for 'strategic, proactive promotion'. Besides providing grants to musicians, Culture Ireland connects musicians with programmers of Celtic music festivals and brings Irish performers to international arts events. But Madeline Boughton, Culture Ireland's director of projects and promotions, agrees that there are gaps in the chain promoting traditional music. 'One thing that's missing, for instance, is an independent organisation to promote, develop and push the case for traditional arts, to galvanise and unite the community,' she says, citing Dance Ireland in comparison. 'People probably feel they are on their own and have to sell themselves. If there was a more united front from the community we couldn't but be pleased. They would make their case and Culture Ireland and the Arts Council would have to respond.'
Culture Ireland also publishes listings of upcoming events around the world that are happening with its support. It hopes to overhaul its website soon to make it more user-friendly.
Tourism Ireland in Germany says it wants to promote Irish music more as part of its marketing strategy. 'In 2011 we'll be putting traditional music in the foreground as research shows it is a trigger for German tourists,' says Barbara Wood, Tourism Ireland's manager for central Europe.
And what about Comhaltas Ceoltóiri Éireann? On its website it claims to 'promote traditional Irish music and culture around the world', but the reality is sobering. The organisation is dependent on the initiative of volunteers to set up local branches and do the promotion. In Europe the organisation has branches in France, Finland, Luxembourg and Italy. As for Germany, the organisation's Bernard O'Sullivan says there was a Munich branch but it is no longer active. 'We don't have the resources to go on the ground,' he says. 'The interest has to come from the region itself.'
That interest can be dampened when it becomes clear that Comhaltas is not able to provide financial assistance yet would like volunteers who set up branches to pay a €16 membership fee.
In addition to State agencies, Riverdance has acted as a useful surrogate for satisfying interest in traditional Irish music in recent years. And many Irish embassies have cultural attachés performing good work with limited resources. But, more often than not, long-term promotion abroad falls to Irish and non-Irish volunteers, driven by their passion for Ireland.
In Germany, Christian Ludwig makes the case for a website like Celtic Music Net, with user-generated content as a one-stop resource for all Irish traditional music bands and fans. Equally important, he argues, is a steering group in Ireland to co-ordinate the existing efforts of Culture Ireland, Comhaltas, Tourism Ireland and the Arts Council. 'When you talk to people in these organisations individually they're always very open to ideas, but you can never get them together.'
In Berlin, members of Cirrus, the band recently formed live on the TG4 series, Lorg Lunny , are enjoying a drink after their set. They are now dealing with the challenges that face all new bands: selling their first CD and getting bookings and attention. But they are getting little assistance. 'People in Ireland think of traditional music in pubs as something that's always there and always free, like tap water,' says fiddle player Tara Breen.
Moya Brennan, one of our best cultural ambassadors for the last 30 years, wants a change in official thinking: away from subsidies for companies that come and go and towards long-term financial support for young traditional bands such as Cirrus.
'We have a bank in Ireland called culture, so rich that other countries would dearly love to be able to draw on it,' says Brennan. 'It's a treasure chest that hasn't been opened yet.'