3. TOURISM INVESTMENT

Around the country spiralling investment is taking place in the name of

tourism, fuelled by a combination of EU structural grants, urban renewal

tax incentives, seaside holiday resort tax incentives and BES (Business

Expansion Schemes) , along with the general rip of the economic boom.

3.1 Fake Tourist Shopping Villages

Given that tourism is now the sacred cow of Ireland, any investment that

presses the magic buzzword, jobs and tourism, is automatically seen as

wonderful.

This may apply when a particular investment is, in fact, not a tourist

facility at all, but may even, in the long-term, contribute to the

destruction of Ireland's genuine tourist image. Nothing better epitomises

this than the proposed "tourist shopping village" near Goffs on the Naas

dual carriageway in County Kildare. This is part of an international chain

type operation, providing a mall type retail outlet for discounted

international designer goods, the majority of which would be by definition

imported, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karen, etc. What is so wonderful about this

is, or what should be so particularly beneficial to Irish tourism is

difficult to imagine. It makes no sense for Ireland to spend a fortune on

roads infrastructure to encourage visitors from the Japano-Euro-American

industrial world to come to Ireland to buy yet more of the sort of goods in

the sort of malls which they have more than enough of in their own

countries.

Particularly bizarre about the Kill facility is the fact that a director of

the development company, Padraig O'hUig??n, is also the former chairman, and

still a director of Bord Failte the Irish Tourist Board. To suggest that

this poses a conflict of interest would be an understatement. Equally

curious is the fact that the Bord Failte, although a Prescribed Body under

the Planning Acts, has failed to make any comment on the matter. But then,

this is not surprising at all, given An Bord Failte's virtual national

abrogation of its Prescribed Body status and active collusion in the

plastic bungalow building B&B business.

3.2 Golf Courses.

The golf tourist is the fantasy of the tourist marketing guru, because of

his higher spending profile and higher age group, a big difference from

those Euro-hostelling back-packers, who spend so irritatingly little.

To satisfy the insatiable needs of this great recreational religion, golf

course fever is running rampant. However, in a competitive market, a new

golf course development has to market itself as being something special.

New courses must be located in sand dunes against the rolling Atlantic

breakers, lakes with spectacular mountain backdrops, or the grounds of

historic houses and castles. Among the most controversial has been that

developed by the brother of Dick Spring, TD in Castleisland Co. Kerry,

resulting in an ongoing controversy over the rare European habitat of the

natterjack toad. Plans simmer in Killarney for a proposed swap, by which a

slice of the Bourne Vincent National Park, part of the Muckross Estate, and

the greatest single treasure ever bequeathed to the nation, would be

abrogated, with the developer giving some woodland area to the National

Park in return, conveniently for him, as it would have no development

potential because of its location.

Most striking of all, is the glossy promotional marketing for the Doonbeg

golf course development in Clare. The brochure made a main selling point

of the fact that this was one of the "last such sand dune sites in Western

Europe available", what the report, of course, failed to mention was that

such sites in other European countries would not be available and would

have an inalienable status as wildlife habitats. This wonderful windswept

stretch of the Clare coast with the benefit of EU, Bord Failte directed

operational programme for tourism, funding to a tune of £2.4 million is

going to two 18 hole and one 9 hole golf course with lots of residential

development, holiday cottages and ninety bed-roomed hotel and of course,

all the massive road system, car parking, lighting sewerage and refuse

which that would generate.

A full investigation is needed to explain the extent and justification of

Bord Failte administered EU funding of golf courses. Among those

substantially funded, are the very exclusive Straffan in County Kildare,

and the totally private Luttrelstown in County Dublin.

3.3 Heritage And Interpretative Centres.

These have been the wonders of the last seven years. Fuelled by a

massive EU operation programme led by the Office of Public Works( now the

state heritage service Duchas ) and Bord Failte, every county now has a

Heritage Centre of some sort or another, many of them massive investments

of dubious economic return.

It would be unfair to praise or to criticise unevenly, many have

secured worthy uses for worthy buildings and provide genuinely needed focal

point visitor attractions. But others, particularly the more controversial

of the OPW group have been lethal in their insensitivity with the ongoing

saga of the Burren and Wicklow National Parks remaining unresolved.

The experience from National Parks in other countries shows that the only

viable strategy is to focus visitor numbers around existing settlements and

to minimise the impact of tour buses and mass tourism in the main national

park area in order to preserve the very qualities which the park embodies.

For those who really wish to experience the qualities of an area, cycling

and walking are the best option and the most precious landscape of the

country should not be sacrificed for the fleeting glimpse of the tour bus

zombie going through the experience of being led to hotel to tour stop,

shop to tour stop, shop to hotel again with a bit of passing scenery

between, which phenomenon should be best witnessed on what should be

renamed the "Bus Ring of Kerry". Many of the heritage centres, such as

the one in Dunchaoin, are shut up and bleak places in winter, and others,

such as Kilrush, a positive architectural embarrassment with their plastic

windows, the very antithesis of heritage.

A heritage or interpretative centre is a wonderful excuse for the State,

tourist or development interest to simulate a concern or appreciation of

heritage and environment. By packaging up whole lot of little red dots on

the map as bits of heritage to see, it means that the real environment of

the rest of the country becomes non-heritage, and the real landscapes,

wildlife habitats, archaeological legacy and national historic building

stock, can continue to be flushed down the tubes.

3.4 Holiday Villages.

Following the "success" of the urban renewal developer tax write off areas,

many rural counties and TDs became aggrieved that they were being left out

of the action. Hence, the brilliant strategy in the name of tourism

investment was the Enda Kenny seaside resorts tax incentive scheme,

including the re-invention of that fine planned town Westport in County

Mayo, in Mr. Kenny's own constituency as a "seaside resort". The principle

is the same as the urban renewal areas, a designated chunk of land,

allocated for development, which in this case had to be tourist related,

either housing, hotel or retail, with a condition that any housing had to

be short-term rental.

In practice, it simply made whole chunks of the Irish country as new tax

investment vehicles. When an area is give tax designation, it takes on an

economic force of its own right. Land values rise and the property is

acquired by investors or syndicates seeking to launder money through the

tax system. The scheme is introduced without any strategic plans for the

designated towns and the predictable haphazard results are now all too

obvious to see and are being bewailed in Achill, Enniscrone and Kilkee of

clusters of new white villages plonked arbitrarily here and there in the

landscape failing to reflect in any way the process of organic growth. The

one hope which was expressed for the holiday scheme that it would act as a

counterfoil to continued ribbon development has proved unfounded, since

ribbon bungalows remain rampant, and in large sections of Galway, such as

Renvyle and Roundstone, second homes now predominate. When local

conservation interests sought to appeal against the landscape and habitat

damaging scheme for Inchydoney Island near Clonakilty, the result was

locally orchestrated furore in the name of employment.

3.5 Tourist Accommodation

We are told, as if in a state of panic, that Ireland simply does not have

enough capacity to meet the hotel bed requirement which its wonderfully

burgeoning tourist infrastructure requires.

One of the most welcome developments of recent years has been the

development of a whole network of hidden Ireland type and country house

hotels, and some very sensitive conversions of country houses into discreet

good quality accommodation which is attracting a high spending and

discriminating international clientele. At the other end of the scale the

development of a huge new network of hostels has made the country

accessible for the adventurous budjet traveller.

The unexplained tourist accommodation phenomenon is the rampant growth

of B & B rural ribbon development plastic dormer bungalow.

It is difficult to understand what sort of clientele the vast majority of

older hotels are seeking to attract to judge by the grotesque quality of

typical refurbishment and alteration. Ireland has a great legacy of 19th

century hotels in the major cities and towns and from the days of the Great

Southern Railway Hotel chain. Yet most of these are currently suffering a

complete failure to appreciate their architectural quality and are covered

in dross and tat, including the sea of plastic windows. Among the most

notable casualties are the Great Southern Hotels in Killarney and Galway,

the noble Classical fronted Imperial Hotel in Cork, the historic Hearne's

Hotel in Clonmel, the Westenra in Monaghan and Old Ground in Ennis. The

18th century Cruise's in Limerick was a casualty to urban renewal, and is

now replaced by a chain store street, and development of Jury's Inn and

multi-storey car park type schemes of the dreariest architectural quality

in other parts of the city, a bizarre contradiction in the administration

of urban renewal.



3.6 The Marketing Triumph - The Big Event

There is a current obsession to lure major international TV sports events

to Ireland in the strange assumption that this will somehow be of enormous

benefit to tourism. The world equestrian games fiasco has been the first

attempt, but now Ireland is hosting part of the 1998 Tour de France, and in

the next century, the Ryder Cup. It is difficult to see what benefit there

is to the country of subjecting large areas to the complete chaos and motor

car tailbacks which these events will bring. It is also difficult to

understand the basis of the marketing hype, given that these are all the

sort of events that take place in other places anyhow, and why should the

millions around the world watching them on television suddenly say "Gosh!

It's being held in Ireland this year! Let's go there!". All they will see

on their screens are the same sort of shots of cyclists going up mountains

or pink or lemon pullovered people plugging balls in holes, which could be

anywhere.

Such events bring chaos and very little benefit to the population in the

vicinity.





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