Shannon Heritage Sites should stay open… says Shannon Chamber

Following a recent board meeting and discussion with Shannon Group plc., Shannon Chamber has sought a meeting with Minister Catherine Martin to assess what can be done to keep Shannon Heritage visitor sites open year round.

“We are concerned with the increasing level of interventions we have received from a wide range of members since the off-season closure of Shannon Heritage sites was announced,  particularly relating to the timing of the announcement, prior to the extension of the temporary wage subsidy scheme and other Government stimulus supports, and the lack of proactive engagement and dialogue with all stakeholders in the region , which has resulted in the negative views now being expressed.  We also question why the government are closing these state owned assets at a time when Ireland needs a resilient tourism industry,” said Chamber chief executive Helen Downes.

“As the larger day visitor attractions in any location are the magnets that attract visitors to that area or region, so too are they the drivers of tourism traffic to the smaller attractions, thereby giving the visitor a range of places to visit during their stay. Closure of these sites not only impacts the sites themselves but, as in Bunratty village’s case, the 600 people employed overall in the hospitality and service sectors whose trade is intrinsically linked to the level of visitors to these sites. It also impacts the hospitality and tourism sector at a wider level.

“Shannon Chamber is greatly concerned about the overall negative impact this decision will have on the entire sector in the region. However, we also understand the dilemma Shannon Heritage is facing. Any company that is operating as a commercial semi-state entity must take account of its financial standing; its directors have a duty to ensure the entity trades prudently. Shannon Heritage is no different. However, at the end of the day, Shannon Heritage and the Shannon Group are still state-owned assets and it is in the national interest that a way should be found to keep them open and trading.

“The Shannon Heritage business is highly seasonal and strongly dependent on overseas visitors as would be the case for much of the tourism industry. In practice that means starting every 1st of January from zero to, for example, generate sales of 120,000 banquet seats not to mention 400,000+ day visitors. The season starts in March and runs until September but, in reality, the core cashflow during the summer months funds deficits in the remainder of the year.

“Shannon Heritage has for many years played an important role and contributed significantly to tourism at local, regional and national level. It has been good to see that role growing in recent years as the business has expanded its footprint beyond the Shannon region and West of Ireland to the east coast where it manages projects such as the GPO visitor centre in Dublin and Malahide Castle. It has built up a significant portfolio of daytime and night-time entertainments; this portfolio approach means that economies of scale and depth of management expertise can be spread across what would otherwise be a series of individual projects. Benefits have accrued in the past from merging the banquets and the visitor attractions into one rather than the previously separate entities and this gain should not be lost by separating them.

“Our preference, as a Chamber would be to see Shannon Heritage continue in this role into the future. This has been done in the past, for example, during the early 2000s at a time when there was a significant drop in overseas travel to Ireland as a result of 9/11, SARS and foot and mouth disease.

“Our call is for every possible solution, whether within Shannon Group or from external sources, to be explored to allow the indirect benefits of Shannon Heritage to continue year round. This may lie outside the Group’s current semi-commercial remit and if so, it is reasonable to argue for some kind of economic stimulus to support continued opening. Given the economic role of Shannon Heritage, some sort of funding is required to ensure an extended opening period is secured at a time when the tourism industry needs it most.    

“Just like every business in the tourism and hospitality sectors, whose pre-COVID-19 market was predominantly overseas but who have been forced to refine their product for the Irish visitor, we would also call on Shannon Heritage to seek out and introduce innovative ways of appealing to a domestic market in the off-season. As is currently evident, Shannon Heritage has initiated exemplary measures to ensure that the sites can operate safely during Covid-19; any call to remain open would be subject to health advice safety measures being adhered to by all stakeholders,” added Ms Downes.