I’ve been accused of having a thing for QE2, so to even mention the woman who makes men walk backwards out of rooms is to invite criticism. But given the latest Irish tourism figures, she has to be factored in.
Do you remember those glorious days last May? When the people of the south of Ireland queued up for the honour of being near the British monarch? There were hard-headed people who objected to that visit because, among other things, they thought that money spent on banquets and massive security - €7 million, was it? - would have been better spent on hospitals or the lengthening dole queues. The short-sightedness of these people was quickly corrected by those in authority, when it was explained that her visit would give publicity to the tourist industry that money simply could not buy. The millions spent would be returned in increased tourist numbers, pressed down and running over.
Well, the tourism figures for last year have just been released and yes, there has indeed been a change in tourism figures. But according to The Irish Times yesterday, “visitors from Britain – Ireland’s biggest source of overseas visitors – dropped by 2%”. During the first three months, before the south was graced by the royal presence, the figures were stronger; the figures after she visited, in the latter part of the year, showed a falling-off. Fewer, not more people came to Ireland. Where there were positive figures, the tourism people are attributing the increase to the government’s reduction of VAT rather than the aroma left by the royal presence. What’s more, a lot of criticism has been directed at the tourism people for focusing too much on existing markets like Britain and not going after tourists from growing economies like China and Brazil.
Since I have a thing for Her Majesty, I’ve done what I can to see the numbers in a positive light but they stubbornly resist. It very much looks like those days in May not only cost the southern Irish taxpayer millions s/he could ill afford, but the pundits who went on about reaping a royal harvest either lied or got it spectacularly wrong.
But let’s be positive – let’s try to learn a lesson. A suggestion: this year, the south’s government might want to offer the royal coffers say, €3 million, on the promise no royal person will set foot on Irish soil in the coming year and the hard-pressed tourism industry will be given a chance to get off its knees. Because last time out, Her Majesty appears to have delivered tourism, not a boost, but a regal boot in the face.