Minister Brendan Griffin
By Ray O’Hanlon
Not that you ever want to typecast but Brendan Griffin is a politician who seems to fit very neatly into his ministerial portfolio.
This is not unknown in politics. You can have a doctor take charge of a nation’s healthcare, or a military person take charge of defense.
In Griffin’s case it is not so much a professional link as it is a man who absolutely relishes where he lives, and wants as many people as possible to share in the pleasures all around him.
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And that would include a day of classic Irish weather. Griffin veers towards poetry when describing the joy he feels in an Atlantic meteorological stew of wind and rain.
He hails from the Dingle Peninsula so is familiar with the combination.
Recently he was in New York working to make more Americans similarly familiar.
Griffin is Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport with special responsibility for the second and third parts on the threesome.
He is a Fine Gael TD in the Kerry South constituency so no surprise that he is also passionate about his county’s fortunes on the Gaelic football field.
His job, however, stretches beyond his native county’s boundary, and with regard to tourism also reaches beyond the border, Ireland being marketed to the world as a single tourist destination these past few years.
Griffin’s visit to New York came at a time when all the numbers for Irish tourism are in positive territory.
The North American market, he said in an interview, was “performing exceptionally well.”
The Irish government, he said, recognized this healthy situation and wanted to “sustain it and keep it going.”
Performing exceptionally well in real numbers means two million visitors from North America in 2018, twice the number of just five years ago.
“It’s hard to get your head around it,” said Griffin with a smile.
He was quite clearly getting his head around it easily enough and indeed thinking ahead to 2019 when Ireland will be accessible from North America to a record degree, that being 24 air service gateways, eighteen in the U.S. and six in Canada.
As well as all the gateways, Griffin points to much lower fares on Atlantic routes due to extra competition in the market.
So price attractiveness atop the additional convenience.
“You can be in Ireland more quickly from here than on the west coast,” he said during the interview conducted at the office of Tourism Ireland in Manhattan.
And again with regard to convenience there was the “big boost and less hassle” generated by U.S. Customs and Immigration pre-clearance at Dublin and Shannon airports.
Griffin lives in, and represents, a part of Ireland that welcomes lots of visitors so he doesn’t have to be reminded of the economic importance of the tourism industry.
One in ten in the Republic now work in the tourism and hospitality industry.
“We want to keep and grow that figure,” he said.
Overall, in 2018, Ireland, all of it, will play host to eleven million visitors from around the world.
The island, the minister said, was “a serious player” in international tourism and this was evident when comparing the two million visitors from North America with four million for next door Great Britain.
Ireland, while small, is today competing in “big league” tourism.
One in ten again. This time it’s the statistic showing that one in ten Americans going to Europe are visiting Ireland.
Despite all the favorable numbers, trends and indications, there are, of course, challenges facing the tourism industry, Minister Griffin acknowledges.
Continued success will not be guaranteed by visitors simply having their expectations met, but rather exceeded.
Skills are required by the tourism industry which are not always easy to find in a hot job market.
In the Republic, said Griffin, the economy was heading for full employment again and different industries were now competing for labor.
And when it comes to the tourism industry, employees are now on call all over the island and all year due to what he describes as “regionality and seasonality.”
In recent years, Ireland has been marketed increasingly as a year round destination. But while it has been presented in seasonal terms it is also being offered up in distinct regional portions.
Hence the Wild Atlantic Way, the Ancient East and the Causeway Coastal Route. The latest portion for its own unique consideration is the “Hidden Heartlands.”
This would be some of those middle of the island counties which have many less traveled and visited corners and which, as Minister Griffin contends, have had their “surface only skimmed.”
The “Hidden Heartlands” region is a ready host for a recently emerging concept of “greenways,” routes for walkers and cyclists that can be linked together into an all island integrated network.
“We have outstanding gifts from our ancestors in the form of abandoned railways and canals,” Minister Griffin said.
“We should make the most of them, and also boreens and tertiary roads that could be converted into cycle routes.”
One such route which has received significant attention in U.S. media is the cycle route from Westport in County Mayo to Achill Island.
The Irish government, according to Griffin, is setting aside 53 million euro for the development of greenways, and for linking them together into a network.
“Stay on a bike and go everywhere” is the concept.
The minister, who is 36 and has plenty of energy for getting out and about, enjoys doing just that.
His home area is part of the Wild Atlantic Way.
He doesn’t need such a title to know what it’s like.
And the way he likes it?
“The wilder the better.”