As summer 2017 draws to a close it is useful to consider the impact of tourism on the Irish economy. More particularly we can sometimes draw lessons and analogies from the the tourism sector to the wider economy.
The proposed South Kerry Greenway, a cycle track along the bed of the old great southern and western railway from Killarney to Cahersiveen provides an excellent example of the good and bad of Irish economic planning
Despite importance of tourism in Ireland there are relatively few published academic studies of its impact. Typically this is done by estimatin of a multiplier. This shows the impact of a marginal euro on the economy when that euro is spent in a sector. Two types are calculated – direct and indirect, the indirect also accounting for the increase in demand and consumption from the injection generated by the first.
Department of tourism estimates that upwards of €8 billion in revenue is generated from the tourism sector, and that something of the order of 200,000 jobs are dependent upon it. Such a large sector should really have a large amounts of research pertaining to its impact. Such research is has been produced tends to, at least in recent years focus on issues around sustainability, or on willingness to pay for more environmentally friendly products. Part of the difficulty as the tourism sector is diffuse; the high-end golfers who common jetting in played links courses of the West Coast are very distinctly different market from the European hiking and bicycling tourists. We do have some estimates of the impact : a 2014 comparative study put the direct multiplier for hotels and restaurants at 1.4, which would suggest a total impact of perhaps 2 or 3: a 2014 studysuggests that walking tourism generates approx. 12 jobs and €500 extra per 1000 walkers
For considerable number of the existing, or planned, greenways there does economic impact analysis. However, while not implying that these are in anyway suspect in their methodology, these are not peer reviewed. They are not independent. Independent external analysis should always be preferred to analysis from within a project. That said, these economic impact analysis to suggest a very considerable return from greenways. This mirror is evidence from other countries, where in general slow tourism has a higher economic impact in the longer run then alternative forms. Irish local authorities are at best moderate to poor in their analysis of the economic impact of tourism.
The Kerry Greenway has been planned for sometime but has been blocked for yet another year by a small number of objectors. I may perhaps be biased, coming from the southern end of this proposed we make, that is little doubt in my mind last a walking and cycle track along Dingle Bay into the heart of iveragh would rank with one of the most spectacular tourist experiences anywhere in the world. People will pay good money to engage in slow tourism. Unfashionable though it may be I would suggest that is is far more beneficia to the environment, To the people, and to the tourists themselves, to slowly take in the sights than to hurtle around the Ring of Kerry in an air-conditioned bus.
Meanwhile even existing greenways having difficulty. The great Southern Trail, which runs from Rathkeal to Abeyfeal has a long-standing plan for extension both northwards towards Limerick and Southport towards Tralee. The northward extension has however been veryrecently stalled, with three way lack of joined up planning between Irish rail, national roads authority and the proposed Greenway extension. Little work appears to have progressed on in The subsequent extension, nor on the extension to Fenit. There are great plans for greenways around the country but these do not link up.
What would an ambitious national greenway plan look like? Recognizing that such slow sustainable tourism has a strong impact, it is one we should seek. It would base itself around the remains of the once extremely extensive railway sector in Ireland. This will require CPO of land and property, to either renew the railbeds or where that is impossible to circumvent blockages; it would have a plan to place a cycle/walking only path the entire length of the Wild Atlantic Way; It would be nationally delivered as the evidence is that local authorities are ill prepared for such initiatives and local micro objections can stall plans for years; it would ensure that gravel or asphalt are laid on the banks of all canals; it would ensure that there are regular, 10k spaced, facilities for families; it would link with thePilgrim Paths initiative and with local food groups. This is all very low key stuff and not terribly exciting but has far greater potential to ensure a vibrant rural year round tourist industry and thus rural development than some of the present initiatives.
An Irish Examiner column