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West=On=Track -News

'Lack of road and rail links' killing tourism in west

Sunday Independent - 14th August 2005

Transport is 'greatest single issue' as holiday-makers find that they just cannot get any further than Irish cities

by Shane Hickey

IT is the beginning of an idyllic holiday in Ireland and you are looking forward to sampling Yeats country, the beauty of the Burren and the fresh Atlantic air rolling through Connemara.

Having landed at the airport with a view to travelling west however, the reality of the Irish transport system dawns. Trains that trundle no further north than Sligo - unless you want to trek to Derry and cramped buses - are now more likely to be the main hallmark of a trip into the west for holiday-makers. Without a car, a trip to Donegal is out of the question and you can forget a sojourn to "lovely Leitrim" because the county has no rail links. Lack of transport infrastructure has been identified as one of the crucial stumbling blocks in reigniting the west for tourists.

Demand for beds in the west declined dramatically between 1999 and 2003 with drops of 22 per cent in the area and 39 per cent in the Shannon region, according to the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation (ITIC). While the drop has been offset by increases in bed occupation in Dublin, reports have indicated that drops in the west have continued this year.

Chief executive of the ITIC Eamonn McKeon said transport was the greatest single issue facing Irish tourism at the moment, with recent statistics illustrating that drops are unlikely to recover this year. At the core of the problem is access to areas in the west and a better integration of bus and rail services, he said.

The chief executive of North-West Tourism Paul McLoon said if someone was travelling from Palmers Green in London, the journey to Stansted or Gatwick is straightforward.

"There is frequent flights to the west of Ireland, but then how do you get from Knock to Sligo? How do you get from Derry to Donegal town?" asked Mr McLoon. "Say you land at Knock and you are going to Sligo, the bus you get - if you are lucky enough to get one - goes to Charlestown and you might have to wait for a couple of hours - so suddenly your short break is starting to turn into quite a long break.

"There is nothing to support the visitor when they land at regional airports regarding quick access."

Pressure on better public transport infrastructure is growing as the number of tourists who choose to drive or rent cars have dropped. "The number of people bringing their cars to Ireland has dropped by nearly 40 per cent in the last four years and car hire dropped by two per cent so the number of people mobile that get around Ireland is diminishing," said Mr McLoon.

The solution, says Mr McLoon is build more roads which will run through the area.

"It is long overdue - what should be in Ireland is a motorway the length and breath of the country. I can't understand why it is all over every part of Europe," he said.

"I can't see why there can't be a motorway from Derry to Kerry and with arteries off it to other regions of the country. Until that is done, we will not have addressed the problem."

The economic implications for drops in tourist travelling to the west are stark.

There has previously been calls for the Irish industry to focus on activity-based holidays such as angling and cycling which are close to collapse even though the economic value of such travellers is said to be five times that of someone here on a city break.

An on-going community campaign in the west of Ireland has been underway to re-open the Western Rail Corridor which runs from Sligo to Limerick. Spokesman for West-on-Track Colman O Raghallaigh said it was impossible to have an inter-regional flow of tourists under the current system. "If you have a tourist who has arrived at Shannon and he visits Limerick and he goes down to Killarney for a couple of days, but he'd like to go to Galway, he cannot actually go from Limerick to Galway on a train," said Mr O Raghallaigh.

"That seems bizarre to us. Or he wants to see where William Butler Yeats lived and all about Yeats in Sligo - he cannot get on a train.

"He has to go through an awfully difficult and slow process of getting on a bus and changing a bus in Galway and all that goes with that.

"There isn't a direct bus from Limerick to north of Galway - you have to change buses in Galway.

"Bus Eireann is running enormous numbers of buses in the west of Ireland and there are also several private operators, but bus travel is not the preferred form of travel for many tourists because if you are carrying baggage with you, you don't want to be getting on a narrow bus."








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