The State We’re In: A Guest Post by Jerome Casey

Last summer, the Dublin City Centre Business Association commissioned Felim O’Rourke and myself to examine how Dublin’s tourism product could be rejuvenated. Our report is at  If short of time, skim the 33 pages reviewing existing tourist attractions, since each was afforded one page, regardless of its attractiveness. Among the conclusions and recommendations are, 

  1. The Irish Government may not be able/willing to burn the bank bondholders, but it should liquidate Treasury Holdings, rather than allow NAMA to keep it alive. This would cause the 25 year PPP on the Irish Convention Centre to lapse, and save the Exchequer €0.7bn.
  2. My colleague and I are retired, and thus our recommendations are not modified by the expectation of future work. But in 80 years of commercial activity, neither of us has ever come across such a combination of overspending and underperformance as is exhibited by the national tourism organisations (NTO’s). We did not make specific recommendations for organisational change, but your respondents may wish to take up this baton!
  3. The Irish national tourism organisations (NTO’s) perform poorly when benchmarked against Scotland, Edinburgh and Amsterdam. In 2009, if Scottish rates of attracting tourists were applied to Ireland, the budgets of Irish NTO’s would have been reduced by two-thirds, or by c. €100m. p.a.. Amsterdam attracts eight times the tourist numbers per employee of Irish NTO’s, at just over one-half the cost per employee. Within Ireland, there is a mismatch between visitor numbers and NTO spending: Dublin accounted for 32% of tourist revenue in 2009, but only 6% of current spending by NTO’s was spent in Dublin.
  4. This is sectoral stuff, microeconomics. At the micro, micro level, Dublin tourism is going to have to function in future with lots of ingenuity and with little finance. For example, the municipal food market should maintain cleanliness standards with frequent water sluicing on tarmacadam floors, rather than by (much more expensive) investment in ceramic floor tiling. Again, where a tourism product is space-constrained, such as the Book of Kells or the Anne Frank house, it is cheaper to extend visiting hours, rather than to invest in expanded waiting areas. Let’s have similar cost-constraining initiatives in other major areas of social expenditure, such as health, education and social welfare.

This industry and this report are too important for Ireland’s future to be consigned to the neglect of the authorities.

19 replies on “The State We’re In: A Guest Post by Jerome Casey”

Its not the marketing , its the product.

The Irish landscape unlike the Scottish one has become seriously compromised.
There are a few hidden gems left but they are running scarce these days

Not many people go on holidays to suburbs……they try to escape them in general.
As for the urban stuff – I have always found Dublin more dangerous then Glasgow – its cerainly a more hungry place with less soul.
I only go there when I have to.

Without getting on too high a horse, I sometimes wonder whether even we economists might cavil at the reductionism of characterising the Book of Kells and the Anne Frank House as “tourist products” (point 4 in the original post), and indeed the (I’m sure unintended) grimness of noting the latter is “space-constrained.”

More generally, as I think has been mentioned here before, there are questions as to whether tourism marketing truly is a public good, and whether the sectoral focus merely invites rent-seeking, as reflected, for example, in the differential VAT treatment accorded the hospitality/tourist sector currently. (Check the recent budget for details of these concessionary VAT rates for the doubtlessly “strategic” sub-sector of pet farms.)

My sense is that the enormous emphasis in the discourse on tourism on visitor numbers and “spend” has more than a whiff of “new mercantilism” about it.

Further, I would draw a worrying analogy between policy debates for heritage/public spaces amenities and that around support for public good research. If proponents adopt the language of purported economic returns, as opposed to “merit goods”, i.e., of seeing these as means to ends rather ends in themselves, do they not merely induce intrusive and often damaging state supervision, and then neglect?

Tourism needs a major overhaul in this country. Two years ago I advocated co-ordinated major investment in several world class (world leading) attractions such as the best motor museum in the world, the greatest aquarium in the world, a fun park that makes Alton Towers look like a kiddies playground, a space museum that laughs at the one in France, etc. Half a dozen really great attractions to be spread around the country so that the employment/benefit of it all wasn’t in just one ‘hotspot’. Give people more than one reason to come here – tourists could spend a week driving around Ireland and see/visit half a dozen truly fantastic offerings as well as the usual Irish stuff. It would have also helped to soften the blow the construction sector has been dealt over the past couple of years.

We need to think big and think bold. Be brave. Invest the money, get highly competent people to deliver the attractions and employ the best marketing outfit to bring in the punters. If you are going to rely on tourism then at least do it better than anyone else is.

Instead, we just kept on giving money to zombie banks. What a wasted opportunity.

One theme in the report is excessive centralisation and that the management and promotion activities would often be better handled by local government. But the trend in Ireland has been gutting of local government functions over the last 35 years, going back to the abolition of their main independent revenue source in 1977. The proposals in the report would be a good way to start reversing the trend.

Thanks for highlighting these figures. We are an island nation on the westernmost periphery of Europe, and thus our national spend for attracting visitors from continental Europe and beyond has to take into account our geography (and then of course our high prices when you get here).

Is it simply a fact of life that our spend is going to be higher than that those locations on the larger mainlands? For instance, I would be interested in knowing do visitor numbers to Edinburgh include people from the rest of the UK?

As Amsterdam is at the heart of Europe and a travel Hub, a lower spend garners greater numbers.

@PR Guy
“Instead, we just kept on giving money to zombie banks. What a wasted opportunity.”

And we are to give another thousand million on January 25th to Anglo bondholders. Perhaps we should have a national day of mourning for all the money lost.
Btw, can anyone tell me what 800 people do in that defunct institution.

As Brendan O ‘Connor says today (in a good article)… And the bullshit goes on.


“can anyone tell me what 800 people do in that defunct institution”

Been trying to find that out myself. Thought I was going to get to do some work there a while back but it fell through when suddenly the work went to a PWC bod at the last minute (didn’t even know they had any PR Guys but I do know they have a stranglehold on the organisation!).

“My colleague and I are retired, and thus our recommendations are not modified by the expectation of future work.”

In declaring his interests, or lack of them – or, more properly, the disinterested nature (in the best sense) of his and his colleague’s attempt to present an objective and critical analysis of public policy in this sector, Jerome Casey has probably, and perhaps inadvertently, provided an excellent explanation of why we see so little analysis of this nature of public policy in all other sectors.

The government and its agencies are the dominant commissioners of external analysis and research. They certainly are not going to fund analysis and research that might be critical of existing public policy. The remaining commissioners are the bodies representing narrow sectional economic interests and, by definition, their objective is to secure evidence and analysis that might allow them to secure even more favours from government – ot to prevent existing favours being reduced or withdrawn.

So all of those with knowledge and competence in these sectors in the academic, research or consulting areas really have no option but to supply the research and analysis that these bodies demand. The alternative is go without funding or income. If that is the choice there should be no surprise that most of the sectoral research and analysis that is conducted is actually detrimental to the public interest.

The commissioning of this piece of work is probably the exception that proves the rule – a commercial association that recognises that the design and delivery of efficient public policy is in the interests of both citizens and business.

But is there anyone who is in a position to raise public awareness of this dearth of objective, critical, sectoral research and analysis prepared to do so?

No. I thought not.

Off topic but something very dramatic has happened to road freight in this country……..
Its shrinking at a massive rate – much of this is due to the construction implosion (tonnes carried perhaps) but the figures are quite astounding for vehicle Km & tonne KM also.

Road freight transport stats :
Year 1998 Year 2007 (peak)
tonne Kilometers (millions) : 8,184 : 18,707
Tonnes carried (thousands) :191,264 :299,307
Vehicle kilometers (million) : 1,327 :2,332
Average Number of vehicles : 50,033 : 97,752
Laden Journeys : 13,468 :23,646

Year 2010
Tonne kilometers (millions) : 10,924
Tonnes carried (thousands) : 125,865
Vehicles kilometers (million) : 1,457
Average number of vehicles : 84,025
Laden journeys : 11,177

Note the extra 30,000 vehicles in 2010 relative to 1998 but by many stats they are carrying less freight.
Which means the depreciation must be massive relative to productivity.

The CSO published a annual overview of transport up to 2008 – at least I cannot find any more recent publications.
It was a decent holistic view of developments in this area.
The more recent 2010 data comes from their August 2011 publication
Road based transport survey 2010.

Cannot understand why there is not a deeper debate about transport policey and the Irish commitment to maintain roads not fit to our scale and why nearly all resourses should be diverted from this economic dead end / pre – end use extraction engine before all is lost.

Okay, I’ll have a crack at this – apologies if rambling and partial; it’s meant to be constructive.

And I share the misgivings of Aidan Kane.

Let’s start with:

“Dublin does not have a publicised, well-developed shared vision and shared branding of the city.”

The shared vision might arise from the reasons people have for visiting Dublin. What attracts them, and what would satisfy that desire?

I grew up in the lovely city of Chester, which many of you will know, and my father (who emigrated from Ireland in the 50s), was a blue badge guide there. Chester was, and maybe still is, one of the largest city tourist desinations outside of London.

The reasons for its success include: a clear identity – the Roman city with a complete set of walls, a pedestrianised centre including the Rows mixing unique shops (a deliberate planning policy) with chains, sporting occasions (the races), pleasant parks, lots of well maintained historical buildings in modern use, a number of easy day trips from the base, and it sat within a coach/train network that could go London – Chester – York – Edinburgh, or West into North Wales.

The layout of Chester is also highly intuitively easy to grasp, based as it is on the cross shape of a Roman camp – hence the name derived from Castra.

One of the things my Dad pointed out was that there are some things that are common to many places that tourists might go (lots of Europan cities have Cathedrals), and it is useful to mark things that are unique to the place – they can be found here and nowhere else.

Turning to Dublin, we can see it is a bigger, more complex city, but still, we can say it is a city famous, in positive terms, for its character (hard to define), nightlife, music, history, theatre, literature, education, Georgian architecture, sport. I note that the report does not use the word ‘sport’, ‘education’ or ‘theatre’ or, to any extent, ‘music’ or ‘family’ in relation to Dublin, and this seems a weakness when discussing tourism.

The great unique physical treasures of the city (here and nowhere else), include the Chester Beatty, the Book of Kells and various Celtic manuscripts, the GPO and the Abbey (for historical/artistic not architectural reasons), The Hugh Lane Gallery, Merrion Square leading down to the Pepper Cannister Church, Henrietta Street, Croke Park, the Guinness Storehouse. It is also one of four UNESCO: City of Literature (also not mentioned in the paper and a place to build).

Unique intangibles include literature, historical figures (eg St Patrick’s being the resting place of Swift gives the Cathedral a boost) and events, music, rich history and folk lore, pub/night life.

Although the city has a castle, cathedrals, parks, a concert hall,a zoo, a rugby/football stadium, various museums and so on, these are not at the highest level when compared with similar institutions around Europe – though all well worth visits and containing many objects, stories and events of great interest. In other words, they are things which are rewarding to see and attend and could be a great part of a visit, but possibly not travelling half a world to see.

As an aside, in the last budget the government simultaneously wanted to encourage long haul tourists and eco-tourists. The dollar signs overwhelmed any idea of consistency.

For a day trip, I would say that Newgrange (and the Boyne valley), and Glendalough, at of the absolute top, unique, level.

I mentioned ‘education’ as I happen to teach at the IES (for American exchange students) and at the Lir Academy, and it is fascinating to deal with young Americans who have come to Dublin very much on the intangible idea of the place – from U2 to James Joyce, and find it both like and unlike their expectations. I also believe that various USA Unis have outposts in the city. If young Americans and Erasmus students can be encouraged to keep links with Dublin so much the better.

The key problem for Dublin I think as a pleasant destination is that it is only partially, at best, a pedestrian or bicyle friendly city. This is a deep seated problem – I’ve noted before, but the stretch from St Patrick’s to Christchurch is a disaster, instead of what should be a great walk. Further problems include the destruction of most of Medieval and pretty much all of viking Dublin.

Until the car/pedestrian/tram/bus/bicycle relationship is sorted out I think this will nag. Perhaps Paul Hunt, if he is in good form, might reflect on the necessary organisational/governmental changes necessary to make this happen – stronger local councils? a lord Mayor? A single elected transport body for the city?

What, I think, Aiden Kane, has his finger on, is putting the tourist ‘cart’ ahead of the need for a flourishing city. My interest is in the living aspects of sport and culture. The more the Abbey, the Dublin Theatre Festival, The Fringe, Gaelic Games, Rugby, Soccer, Music festivals etc., flourish at all levels the more there is worthwhile for people to come and partake in. Yes, a museum to our Nobel Prize winners is a nice idea, but Roddy Doyle’s Fighting Words on Russell Street is probably more important.

Film-making is a plus for Dublin, as people come to see where their favourite movies have been shot.

One of the key problem areas is of course, O’Connell Street, particularly the West side, which is now doubly messed up, thanks (I think) to a number of the plots being in NAMA.

As we head to 2016, this needs to be sorted out, along with the long term physical future of the GPO and the Abbey.

But what has been flourishing, and should be encouraged, are the smaller unique festivals, which animate the spaces – eg The World Street Performers Championships, or the Opera outside the Civic Offices, or Culture Night.

Tiny thoughts as requested:
* A map / app which shows Children’s Dublin, or A Foody’s Dublin, Trad Music Dublin – or any particularly interest – without a load of rubbish ads on them – given free to all on arrival.
* Can tourists access the city bicycle scheme easily?
* A database of leading Dublin figures and a better plaque/event system to commemorate them.
* A Dublin City Guide walking tour, possibly setting out from St Andrew’s where the tourist office is located.
* The Saint Patrick’s Day Parade is very good – is this being promoted enough abroad?
* Further use of Culture Ireland, Cultural and possibly Sporting ambassadors abroad.
* Improved canal boat possibilities on the Royal and Grand going inland from the docks, possibly private enterprise.

I also think PR Guy is kind of right – but I’ve (genuinely) heard great things about Mr Tayto’s Taytoland – perhaps he might take Mrs PR Guy and mini PR Guys and report back.

The Irish Government may not be able/willing to burn the bank bondholders, but it should liquidate Treasury Holdings, rather than allow NAMA to keep it alive. This would cause the 25 year PPP on the Irish Convention Centre to lapse, and save the Exchequer €0.7bn.

That should be headlines on every newspaper and radio/tv current affairs show…

@ Garry

Agreed! I am going to help out with that one.

As for tourism does it help to spend 30% of the bundget on promoting Dublin and then allow 14 drug treatment centres, emergency accomodation hostels, methadone clinics saturating Dublin 1 where the vast majority of these tourist attractions are and where tourists are easy pickings. I see it all the time. I went in to town recently on foot and when I was going over the millinium foot bridge I suddenly realised there was something wrong! I stood still for a few seconds, then Eureka! No beggars on the bridge? Hey what’s up! Unfortunately, between junkies, beggars, litter chewing gum Dublin can be a horrible experience. Did I mention the broken and undulating paving on grafton street and wicklow street? Seems replacing a few pavers is totally beyond the competence or budget of DCC. Why are these paths falling apart outside shops? Commercial rates are huge as we know and as for those trapped in UORR it would be nice if people could actually get to the doors of shops without tripping. When I worked in Munich they cleaned the streets with high pressure hoses you could eat your dinner off them, try that in Dublin.

The authors have done a good report here and I agree with Paul Hunt that it is such a pity that the the vast amount of sponsored analysis is contaminated and not worth the paper it is printed on.

Interesting discussion.

@ Robert – if you want to see crumbling footpaths, come to Brussels! Our footpaths make Dublin’s look like a Formula 1 race track.

Mind you, neither that, nor the unfriendliness, nor the high prices, nor the complete lack of architectural coherence, nor the wretched weather, is capable of putting a dint in the unrelenting surge of tourists that come to Brussels.

Why do they come? To look at the drab facades of EU office buildings? To marvel at a foot-and-a-half statue of a naked boy urinating water?

I don’t know, to be honest. But I suspect the answer is simply that Brussels is a place people have heard of and which is very easy to get to by car, by high-speed train, by plane…

Meanwhile, I have to say with the Celtic Tiger deflated, Ireland is starting to become a very nice tourist destination, in terms of value for money.

In terms of the discussion on making Dublin a more pedestrian / cycling friendly city to help boost tourism numbers, I’m not sure I agree. People who live in a place tend to confound tourists needs with their own.

Cycling is an activity engaged in by locals. Pedestrianism is good for tourists, up to a certain point – they want to be able to walk around a defined core (such as Grafton Street), but too much pedestrianisation makes it hard for tourists to navigate by taxi, coach etc.

Also, while traffic is a problem, it is never as much of a problem for tourists, who tend to miss the morning rush because they are still having their Full Irish at 9:30, and who are usually having a meal from 17:30 – 19:00.

What counts a lot is how friendly people are when they meet them. Irish people really are friendly, and that is one thing almost every foreign tourist has commented on to me.

Just a final point on the comparison of Amsterdam to Dublin: Is Dr Casey making too much of the role of agencies in attracting tourists? I mean, people go to Amsterdam to get high and look at half-naked girls in shop windows, don’t they? Or is it because of the architecture, the canals, the Van Gogh museum? Anyway, it’s certainly not because of a glossy brochure.

@ Jerome Casey

In the interest of a tag line for Dublin in the spirit of I Amsterdam.

The line should fit with the above discussion, plus be welcomed (at least not hated) by Dubliners, plus suggest an on-going relationship with the city for repeat visitors.

Some great tag lines include:

I (Heart) New York
I’m Loving it
Your M&S
We Leben Auto.

So I suggest as food for thought:

Literally Dublin
Welcome to Dublin
Discover Dublin (based on existing slogan)
Live (rhyme with ‘give’) Dublin
Live and Love: Dublin
Dublin: May you Live everyday of your Life. (A Swift quote).
Dublin: Live your life.
Dublin: We love life.
Dublin Life
Dublin: Live on the Liffey
Dublin: Life on the Liffey
Dublin: Love it and live it.

Hope that’s some use.


Dublin: We like to get drunk and fall over

(based on a recent foray into town after work one evening)


“I mean, people go to Amsterdam to get high and look at half-naked girls in shop windows, don’t they? ”

I’m sure both are valuable contributors to the local economy! I must admit, I was pretty keen on the Indonesian food when I was over there – it was better than the muck you actually get in Indonesia that’s for sure.

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