‘What are the true assets that the Irish hospitality and tourism industries can count on when the good times come again?’ asks futurologist Valentina Doorly.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2021 issue of Hospitality Ireland Magazine, in April of 2021.
Up until a handful of decades ago, the now so-civilised, well-fed and secure Western world had an extensive and nearly daily familiarity with sickness and disease. When not plagued by these, we used to kill one another in the hundreds of millions for power and control of land.
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We have now unanimously agreed to halt our lives and businesses for over a year in order to protect the most vulnerable in our society from a newly minted plague. How far we have come!
Yet, the economic catastrophe that has battered our industry – that has suffered more than any other – is putting so many livelihoods under pressure. With this, anxiety and stress ramp up in the privacy of our households and behind the brave faces we put out for the public.
What can be done in the mist of such predicament, while still in the unpredictable hands of a virus and its mutations? You have probably heard it all by now: every business is managing savings and cash, trying to retain the best talents, most appropriately investing in planning, training, upskilling and retraining – sparing energy and resources to bounce back together with the market.
Nothing really can be done. Yet, so much is being done. Forgive the contradiction.
Hospitality Ireland’s editor suggested that I write a piece on the true assets that the Irish tourism and hospitality industry can count on when the upswing comes.
Yes, Ireland has many assets we can rely on, but it’s not the great outdoors and the fresh, turf-scented winds sweeping the surface that I am going to mention here – not the great stock of new and refurbished hotels and restaurants, soon busy equipping every inch of outdoor space they can for the next summer, or one of the highest and best Internet connectivities in Europe, to the delight of our guests. Nor shall we point to the untarnished (yes, untarnished) reputation of a welcoming country with outstandingly mannered and witty people on the frontline. Currently, Ireland also has a distinctively Irish-rooted American president to blow marketing winds from North America.
The assets I would like to mention are of a different kind, and believe you me, they are outstanding assets. They refer, for a start, to the intellectual capital of the Irish people, who – maybe thanks to a genetic propensity to study, coming from the Druids, or from the decision of the governments of the 1970s – invest in education more than any other people in Europe.
The result is that Irish people are top of the chart for the level and quality of academic preparation. When the engine of ‘learning is turned on’, it is very hard to stamp it out. It automatically invites for more, it pushes further on the boundaries of our horizons, it pushes up higher the appetite and ambition for better achievements. It invites innovation, and it demolishes the fear of change. What an engine this is!
Irish people are educated, openminded, willing to take on more. They accept feedback, invite feedback, manage feedback.
Institutions, industry leaders, organisations, families and individuals are prepared to put time and resources to sit down and acquire another bit of information, another chunk of knowledge. If you think this is a feature that all Western countries have, you are mistaken. Education is the best precondition to build stronger businesses, with better strategies, for a promising future.
Adapt, Survive and Thrive: I remember attempting to take my first (and nearly last) swim in the Irish Sea. I stood at Seapoint, in Dun Laoghaire, already shivering in my swimming togs in the relentless chilly breeze, thinking to myself, what the heck?! How do they do this? A lovely lady in the vicinity came to help, engaging me in conversation, and at my half-embarrassed, half-terrified look, she offered a decisive “No, no, no … no negative thoughts! Only positive!” Meaning: “If you convince yourself hard enough that the water is acceptably warm, the water will actually feel acceptably warm.” (I did eventually jump in, but didn’t have enough willpower to deliver the magic of self-conviction.)
Irish people do not moan. They do not give in. They adapt, survive and thrive. Turning negatives into positives, limits into opportunities, duress of life into life tests to be endured and overcome. They put the head down, harvest seaweeds from the coastal areas to make soil good enough to grow vegetables (or seaweed baths, for indulging tourists), migrate to other continents, chin up, making themselves proud and successful. They take the sharp and wet winds peeling off the last bush from the Burren rocks and transform them into a heated and vibrant pub venue filled with intoxicating music – and yes, they turn bloody cold water into Mediterranean warmth just by sheer willpower.
And Irish tourism has a blessing that I, with the eyes of a foreigner, possibly see better than yourself: you have the system. A well-organised, well-resourced and well-meaning system of industry organisations that pull all operators together, represent their interests, their voice and their needs.
Ireland’s state bodies, semi-state bodies and industry organisations form a precious, solid ecosystem of activities, inputs, information and resources. They strive for the brand and the country internationally, with well-engineered marketing campaigns. They look after the product and its innovations, stimulating operators to do more and do better. They represent industry interests with cohesiveness and efficiency. Fáilte Ireland, Tourism Ireland, the Irish Hospitality Institute, the ITIC and so on, so forth, punching from every corner for a common cause with their competent, professional, dedicated staff.
Many other countries, which have so much more than Ireland in terms of ‘products’ and ‘heritage’, are ill-equipped when it comes to industry management, territory marketing, product strategies, and resources. What if I told you that Italy’s national agency for tourism was granted a total budget of €37 million in 2019? Italy received 60 million international tourist arrivals that year. Now compare that with your own figures.
Yes, Ireland has many natural assets, but, more importantly, the cohesiveness of its people, who can discuss everything and usually find more reasons to agree than to disagree and divide. This is not something the pandemic will take away. Quite the opposite – it reinforces it.
As I write this, it’s the darkest hour before the dawn. We must st tight, drawing in all our vital juices, like trees in wintertime. We will soon be out of this, and movements will pick up like a blaze – a joyful one – reigniting the pleasure of getting together with friends and family, roaming free, celebrating the simple things in life. And recovery will find us ready and willing, as always.
Read More: Hospitality Ireland Spring 2021: Read The Latest Issue Online!