On a gray Tuesday afternoon in Dublin, a steady stream of tourists lined up to have their photo taken with the Molly Malone statue. Heavy rain had just fallen but the wind was howling in Suffolk Street.
In doing so, he blew up three large umbrellas outside a nearby pub. It’s a reminder that of the many reasons people come to holiday in Ireland, the weather is pretty low on the list.
The tourism sector now faces a storm of its own. Hotel prices have risen sharply and the cost of renting a car has skyrocketed. Eating and drinking have become more expensive.
Add to that the chaos at Dublin airport and a shortage of taxis and Ireland risks becoming a less attractive destination for holidaymakers.
Ireland has never been seen as a cheap destination, so comparisons with traditionally cheap and cheerful vacation spots like Greece and Spain may not be helpful or accurate.
Travel writer Fionn Davenport told Prime Time that countries like these operate on a completely different economic model. Pricing in Ireland, on the other hand, has generally been more in line with our Northern European counterparts.
However, he said there’s no doubt that this summer is more expensive than anything we’ve seen before.
There is no shortage of stories of exorbitant prices for hotel rooms, especially in Dublin.
Mr Davenport said that while the price hike is certainly happening, it largely reflects what is currently happening with hotels around the world.
“The idea that hoteliers in Ireland are all really wild and greedy people doesn’t stand up to scrutiny,” he said.
There are three major factors: rising energy costs, delayed bookings from 2020 and 2021, and lack of staff. There is also pent-up demand from people who have not taken a holiday abroad for three years.
For Dublin, there is a strange paradox. The Irish Hotel Federation said demand for rooms in the capital exceeds supply. However, new hotels are emerging at an extraordinary rate.
The argument has been made that these new builds often come at the expense of Dublin’s culture.
By extension, some have noted that these hotels replace the very things people visit in town to live.
Take the famous Cobblestone pub, an institution of traditional Irish music, whose back room and outdoor space were nearly wiped off the map to make way for a hotel.
It’s a delicate balancing act.
“If the growth or explosion of the tourism sector is at the expense of city dwellers and city dwellers, then I think we have a huge problem,” Mr Davenport said.
The Cobblestone opens at 4pm and, as the musicians tune in, the pub quickly fills up.
Tomás Mulligan, one of the pub’s owners, told Prime Time it was a testament to the culture people come to taste in Dublin.
Like all other pubs and restaurants, their costs are rising, but they don’t want their customers to be disappointed.
“If tourists are coming here, it might be their only holiday for the foreseeable future anyway, so we aim to give them a good time,” Mr Mulligan said.
For several American tourists to the Molly Malone statue, price increases were of little concern.
They told Prime Time that the dollar is strong against the euro right now and food and drink prices are about the same as in the United States. Hotel prices are considered expensive, but no one complains.
While not much of a problem for tourists staying in Dublin city, the cost of car hire is adding a huge sum to many people’s vacations this year, especially those who want to experience some of the most popular places. remotest parts of Ireland.
For business owners who depend on the tourist trade, this is a major concern.
Michael Vaughan, who runs the Vaughan Lodge Hotel in Lahinch, Co Clare, told Prime Time he already had customers canceling their reservations because the cost of hiring a car made travel prohibitive.
Small businesses like this rely on what’s known as Free and Independent Travelers, or FITS — tourists who travel on their own, without sticking to the tight schedule of a tour group.
FITs will book their own hotel rooms and restaurants and are the holy grail of tourists for business owners like Mr. Vaughan.
In the west of Ireland, he said, they are particularly important.
“You try to organize a train trip to Ireland for a week, and you won’t go to too many cities,” Mr Vaughan said.
On Lahinch’s High Street, Rosie Kenny runs Kenny’s Woolen Mills and the Lahinch Art Gallery on High Street.
It too relies on customers who have money in their pockets and who have the time to sail.
Ms Kenny said that while they are feeling the impact now, she is more concerned about the reputational damage to Irish tourism if people return home with stories of sky-high prices.
Outside the store, a young couple from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania told Prime Time they fell in love with Ireland.
Although they found transportation difficult, the cost of food and drink compared very favorably to European cities they have visited in recent weeks.
An Edinburgh man told Prime Time he needed to hire a car to drive to the many golf courses in the west of Ireland he wanted to visit this summer, finding the cost much higher provided that.
He compensated for this by staying in more moderately priced hotels. Nonetheless, he said he was here to have fun and happily said he could afford the higher costs.
However, not everyone is so cheerful. A Melbourne couple from County Kerry and Switzerland told Prime Time that what they paid to rent a car would have covered the full cost of a holiday in Thailand.
In Ireland for a holiday and a wedding, they also suffered from airport chaos: the airline lost their luggage and they are still without it three weeks later.
“It’s probably the most stressful vacation of my life,” said Viv, from Switzerland.
They won’t recommend Ireland as a holiday destination to anyone – noting that the cost of hotels, car hire and food cannot be justified.
So, is this the future of Irish tourism? Is this just a spike in inflation or will Ireland end up being seen as a poor value for money destination?
Mr Davenport believes that hotel prices will most likely return to 2019 levels next year and that the shortage of semiconductor chips that has caused a lack of car supply will ease, bringing the cost down vehicle rental.
“There’s a difference between expensive and good value,” he said.
“I think our reputation as a value-for-money destination will be protected in the long term.”