By Lisa-Marie Griffith
As a tour guide I find it highly entertaining that the decline in the economy has encouraged so many people to discuss the importance of our tourism industry. Orna Mulcahy highlighted in the Irish Times how, throughout our boom period, we have taken tourists for granted. We can no longer afford to take or leave tourists and we must return to the Ireland of a thousand welcomes. ‘Tourist’ has become a dirty word. It conjures up images of 1950s Ireland when we the locals were forced to sing for their supper and people who would do anything for a dollar. This is not an accurate representation of the tourist industry in Ireland and we can use tourism in Ireland as proof that Ireland is a creative and resourceful nation.
I am regularly embarrassed with the stories I hear from tourists of how Irish people have treated them since they have been here. A first time visitor to Ireland, and a teacher from Switzerland with a large school group, told me recently that they had received verbal abuse from the moment they arrived at the airport (including ‘f*cking French!’ while boarding a bus to leave the airport). Indeed when I brought the group to Temple Bar and the group spilled onto the street a driver with very little patience reversed into the group loudly honking his car horn. She told me she brings students on excursions on an annual basis and said that she had NEVER encountered such negativity while travelling with a school group. I feel I must add this was her second day in the country and after spending two hours with this group I was charmed by the polite and friendly group of teenagers.
Working as a guide always makes me aware of how much the history industry has to offer tourism in Ireland. We have always used our history and heritage to entice tourists to come to Ireland and to entertain them while they are here. Tour guides can be seen on any given day around Dublin selling the musical, literary or historical history of the capital and show how in Ireland we have become adept at selling our heritage. A friend recommended a wonderful YouTube clip to me recently that shows how innovative the tourist industry in Ireland is and how historical tourism can be used to attract interest and customers in a very unique way. Mullaney Brothers is a general department store of the old school variety. They stock clothes (particularly Irish produce) and household goods and, as John Mullaney himself explains on his Youtube clip ‘is the only travel agency in Ireland that survives in a clothing store’. The Travel Agency has been in the business since the early twentieth-century, when they had a sideline business selling tickets for a large number of emigrants from Ireland on the Cunard Line. Today it sells holidays throughout the world. They hold travel records in the shop from1906 and in the Youtube clip John Mullaney shows entries for tickets sold on the Lusitania! Mullaney also helps some of the tourists in his shop to retrace their roots. You have to watch the clips the full way through but these are two clips that are well worth a look, not least because they show how much our local history and the personalities in the locality can help us boost our flagging tourist industry.