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01 Dec 2021

Summer reopening under Level 3 critical to survival of Kilkenny’s visitor attractions - AVEA

Visitor experiences and attractions expect repeat of 75 per cent revenue shortfall in 2021

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High Street, Kilkenny

Kilkenny’s visitor experiences and attractions must be allowed re-open their doors under Level 3 Covid-19 restrictions to access the lifeline of a summer domestic tourism season, according to the Association of Visitor Experiences and Attractions (AVEA).

AVEA have today warned that the survival of visitor experiences core to the fabric of Ireland’s cultural identity and tourism industry is at a tipping point. Chair of AVEA, Sean Connick expresses the concern of the association’s 85 members who currently are not permitted to reopen under Level 3 of the Government’s recently revised Covid-19 ‘Path Ahead Plan’.

“We are urgently calling on the Government to confirm the inclusion of visitor experiences and attractions (VEA) as a named sector permitted to open under Level 3 when the country is ready to move to that stage. The opening of visitor attractions under Level 3 was correctly amended in November 2020, in line with other tourism, hospitality and retail businesses. It is our assumption that the non-inclusion of visitor attractions under Level 3 in the revised plan is a simple oversight by Government rather than a policy reversal," he said.

“The VEA sector is set to miss another season of international travel, meaning two full years of lost revenue for our members. With the sector continuing to operate in survival mode, it is critical that visitor attractions are given the desperately needed lifeline of access to domestic tourism during the summer months. This is the only market the sector can depend on and given the cautious approach by Government to lifting restrictions which AVEA supports, it’s likely the domestic season will run for an extremely limited period, with capacity curtailed significantly due to operational restrictions."

According to Fáilte Ireland, AVEA members rank among some of the country’s most popular visitor experiences and include several Kilkenny-based attractions such as Kilkenny Castle, the Medieval Mile Museum, Rothe House Museum and Gardens, and St Canice's Cathedral.

Commenting on the ability of Kilkenny’s VEA sector to act as a leader in adhering to public health guidelines and operate safe environments for visitors and staff, Mr Connick said: “In spite of very low levels of demand, our members in Kilkenny and across Ireland have worked incredibly hard to reopen safely when permitted to do so, protecting our people, and securing as many of their jobs as possible. Kilkenny’s visitor attractions are perfectly positioned to reopen safely under Level 3, having made significant investment in implementing visitor and staff safety measures. These include the roll-out of staff training under the Fáilte Ireland Covid-19 Safety Charter.

“Kilkenny’s visitor attractions are professionally controlled spaces and are highly experienced in managing the flow of people, with most operating online booking systems allowing for detailed capacity management. Visitor attractions are very spacious places, with many primarily operating in an outdoor setting. The guided tour element that most of our members operate also acts as an additional safety measure ensuring that members of the public do not congregate or stand stationary while visiting.

“These are safety measures you do not get in a retail setting. It is our belief that non-essential retail could have 10 times more visitors daily in smaller and more congested spaces than our largest indoor heritage and cultural attractions. In addition, our members are obliged to operate a full contact track and trace system unlike retail.”

CEO of Kilkenny Civic Trust, Ciaran Conroy spoke of the importance of maintaining the physical and intellectual assets core to the success of Kilkenny’s visitor experiences.

“The VEA sector forms a vital cog in the overall marketing strategy for positioning Kilkenny as an attractive international tourism destination. There is a pivotal need to ensure that our visitor experiences are primed and ready to drive international tourism recovery once travel resumes. If we are anyway serious about retaining the unique selling point and identity of our cultural experience offering to international visitors, we cannot allow Kilkenny’s visitor experiences to fail and disappear due to financial losses incurred because of Covid-19," he said. 

“Government must recognise the essential need to keep the operations of our visitor experiences ticking over by allowing them to reopen for the 2021 domestic season. Not only will this help maintain the physical resources and infrastructure vital to the county’s future tourism strategy, but it will also help protect the sectors most important asset – our people. As visitor attractions face a second crushing year without international tourism, there is a real risk that the talent so vital to the success of the sector will start looking at alternative career options. Without the breadth of enthusiasm, knowledge, and passion of those at the forefront of our visitor experiences, we simply cannot guarantee the same quality of product offering to international tourists when markets reopen.”

Chair of AVEA, Sean Connick concluded: “We acknowledge the difficult task Government face in balancing the protection of public health and taking a cautious approach to safely reopening the economy and society. However, with deliberations on the reopening plan due to take place on 5th April, it is critical that Government consults formally with our members to ensure a fair and equitable discussion. Confirmation that the VEA sector can reopen under Level 3 would give our members more certainty to put plans in place now for the summer ahead. The short-term objectives of our members are to maintain jobs and talent, offer much needed positive mental health benefits throughout the summer and protect Kilkenny’s strategic tourism and cultural assets. Meeting these objectives will be fundamental to strengthening the pace of recovery when our international visitors can return.”

To find out more about the Association of Visitor Attractions and Experiences, visit: www.avea.ie.

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