Spatial Spread of Tourism and Extending the Season – June 2001

Prepared for the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation by Fitzpatrick Associates, Economic Consultants


The objective of the report is to put forward a strategy or series of strategies that would produce sustained balanced growth across the regions.

Approach Taken

The consultants were asked to:

  • Examine how access, employment and infrastructure development can influence regional distribution, and identify barriers and constraints;
  • Examine how marketing and product development can influence regional distribution, and identify barriers and constraints;
  • Review existing capacity at regional level (approved and unapproved) and the utilisation of this capacity, with a view to establishing the level of demand which is possible within existing capacity;
  • Analyse the potential for tourism growth by region, with due consideration for some regional characteristics;
  • Set out criteria for regional planning of tourism, develop a model for integrating tourism into the commercial life of the region and identify examples of best practice at home and overseas;
  • Provide recommendations to assist the achievement of regional growth;
  • Provide recommendations on structures at sub-regional level and make recommendations for improving their effectiveness;· Recommend pilot initiatives;
  • Spread existing targets on a regional basis and establish regional targets.


Key conclusions from the study.

1. The report recommends a three-track approach to the spatial balance of tourism

Track 1: Development of all areas, large and small, to the level of their natural tourism potential, where this is properly assessed and reflects genuine market needs. This includes sustaining rather than reducing the role of existing major centres.

Track 2: Designation of a small number of new tourism centres of scale with particular focus on the BMW Region, involving only centres meeting specific criteria.

Track 3: Policies to maximise the spread of benefits out from tourism centres via ancillary attractions, day trips, pilot projects etc.


2. Key Principles: The Study identifies the key principles underlying any policy towards improving the spatial spread of tourism.

These are:

I. All tourism policy must be market-led, rather than being driven by supply-side considerations.

II. Recognition that the tourism market involves a variety of different segments, the spatial spread of which will vary.

III. Sensitivity towards Ireland’s natural and cultural resource base to ensure tourism flourishes in the long-term and serves the needs of the Irish population now and in the future and

IV. Recognition of the role of key tourism centres, both current and potential.

3. The spatial pattern of different types of tourism differ, and policy towards increased spatial spread needs to be build around these differences. The consultants recommend a seven-way distinction for future planning, with distinct strategies put in place for each:


B: Long stay touring (coach and car),
C: Long-stay based.


D: Short stay and
E: Long stay
F: Business
G: Visiting Friends and Relatives

Policies to improve the spatial spread must in no way damage the role of the existing centres. Our existing top tourist areas are Ireland’s key tourist assets, not tourism “problems” and we would ‘downgrade them at our peril,’ according to the study.

4. More Tourism Centres needed. The Study emphasises that achieving better spatial spread will require the development of a wider range of tourism centres, which has major implications for the allocation of development funding in the Regions. Such centres do not develop either randomly or quickly, and expansion cannot be driven by policy decisions alone. Both tourists and tourism investors must be enticed into such areas.

The study also emphasises that if policy makers wish to promote a quantum shift in tourism numbers towards less developed parts of the country, including the Border, Midland and West Region, this will require the development or expansion of a limited number of major new tourism destinations, in locations which have the resource base and requirements to become centres. Grant-promoted investment in small scattered locations simply will not be able to compete with established destinations, according to the Study.

Criteria are identified in the Study for the selection of new tourism centres, including

  • Natural attraction;
  • Existing strong varied accommodation;
  • Appropriate domestic and international transport access;
  •  Necessary associated infrastructure;
  •  A base of public attractions;
  • An entrepreneurial tourism base and cohesive partnership between local businesses, local authority and community and Presence in surrounding areas of attractions suitable for development as day attractions.

5. Efforts haven’t worked. Efforts under the 1994-99 Operational Programme for Tourism to increase the spatial spread of tourism have not really worked, according to the Consultants. Big centres have stayed big and small ones have stayed small. Private investors concentrate on the main centres and these have generally increased their market shares. The top five tourism counties – Dublin, Cork, Kerry, Galway and Limerick had 65% of all overseas revenue in 1993. This increased to 70% in 1999.The Study points out that key tourism centres are a typical feature of tourism everywhere – and in some countries the key areas dominate national tourism more than their Irish counterparts.

6. Tourism can’t be evenly spread. Tourism cannot realistically be evenly spread across the national territory, according to the Study. Spatial spread does not mean equal spread. The tourism infrastructure to support tourism cannot be provided everywhere. Even if possible, “pushing” tourists into locations which are unsuitable and unprepared is not economically or environmentally desirable.

7. Congestion problems in key centres do not reflect especially high “carrying” rates – they reflect lack of infrastructure investment and poor, or no visitor and traffic management. These need on-site solutions and are not a valid rationale for trying to simplistically move visitors to other locations, even assuming visitors wish to go to these locations, the Report states. Centres can also overdevelop, become “jaded” and experience fashion changes. They need constant maintenance, upgrading and renewal.

The Study also says that measures to promote niche and rural tourism in small locations are perfectly valid and will benefit such areas, but a clear distinction must be made between “rural development” objectives which these satisfy and major tourism “spatial rebalancing”, which they cannot satisfy.

8. Seasonal Spread. Currently about one-quarter of tourism revenue is earned in the peak July-August period and three-quarters outside it – 30% shoulder and 43% off-peak.

In relation to Seasonal Spread, the Report says this improved greatly during the 1990s and off-peak targets (though not shoulder) targets in the 1994-99 Operational Programme were comfortably passed. Much of this progress is explained by increased short-break (mostly to Dublin), VFR and business travellers. Information available does not presently exist to monitor patterns among ‘pure tourists’.

There is a need to identify separately what is happening among genuine ‘promotable’ tourists. Promotional campaigns to promote off-season tourists appear to work, and should be maintained. Domestic holidaymakers are a major component of the market, but Irish school holiday arrangements place a major limitation on the seasonal flexibility of people with school-going children.

The full Report is available from ITIC, Price £60.00.


One of the main recommendations from the study was: “the development of a single agreed spatial strategy for tourism embracing all programmes at present funding tourism, national and regional programmes, leader, interreg, peace and reconciliation”. The study provides a deeper understanding of the principles and issues relating to a spatial strategy and a more even regional distribution of tourism and spells out the difficult challenges which policy makers and the industry must deal with in developing a spatial strategy for the industry.

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