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Time to put the skinflint motorhome myth to bed

Time to put the skinflint motorhome myth to bed

Motorhomes and campervans are getting mixed messages from authorities and are not being universally welcomed in various parts of the country. Some have expressed doubts as to the benefits of campervan commerce while others are far more receptive.

The weather is up. Campsites reopen across the rest of the country on June 2nd. The holiday weekend is just around the corner. The long awaited summer camping season is ready to kick-off in earnest.

The excitement and much planned road trips for the thousands of motorhome and campervan community can no longer be postponed.

It should be a time of unbridled celebration, but all is not rosy in the garden, something is just not right…

There are of course reasons to be cheerful.

The forecast is fantastic; the campsites are reopening much earlier than last year; there’s no impediment to full access to shared services; there are new campsites opening along the Wicklow Way and at Sliabh Liag; others are increasing capacity, many have used the lockdown to improve and enhance facilities. There’s no indication of any significant hike in campsite tariffs and it’s great to see so many new Aire popping up in popular places like Dungarvan and Belmullet.

Since May 10th when inter-county travel resumed the level of demand and desire to get back on the road has been obvious. But with campsites remaining closed until next week it has understandably created pinch points with the convergence of so many vehicles to the popular park ups and scenic spots.

I expect a lot of that to level off from next week on but there’s no doubt traffic, demand and bookings for all things camping is at an all-time high. Plenty of action for everyone in the sector.

Happy days all round, you would have thought, as camping finally comes in from the cold, but unfortunately that’s not the case.

The overzealous erection of headroom barriers at coastal resorts along with so many new ‘No Overnight Parking’ signs popping up like mushrooms, many of them unofficial and of dubious authority or origin are far from welcoming. There is a suspicion that some of this is fuelled by campsite owners and other businesses, but I’m not convinced of that and believe there’s plenty of scope and demand for everyone. Personally, I normally opt for campsites while others prefer going off-grid, wild camping or stealth parking. Most of us are a hybrid mixture of all those options, the freedom they afford and they are not mutually exclusive.

For some the ferries to France can’t return soon enough so that they can hop on the boat to a warmer climate, warmer welcome and at half the cost.

There are plenty of campsites, lots of park-ups, secret spots and scenic areas where we can still enjoy our campervan escapes, but it’s more the tone and attitude in some quarters that is of concern. Height restriction barriers have recently emerged in Dunmore East, on the pier in Dunfanaghy and overnight parking prohibited at the promenade in Tramore, even though the spaces are designated for motorhomes. Places that were hitherto motorhome-friendly seem to be changing their tune. What’s the story?

Local authorities and tourist agencies don’t seem to know what they’re at and continue to send out mixed signals at best, and many treat motorhome owners as second class citizens and the poor relations when it comes to tourism. There is an appalling lack of facilities and services for the burgeoning staycation market in general and for municipal facilities and Aire style services in particular.

No camping Leitrim
Dunfanaghy new barrier
No camping Dunmore East

Tourism Ireland, Fáilte Ireland, County Councils, Port Authorities, Waterways Ireland, Coillte and other State entities all have a role to play but are nervously lagging behind their European counterparts. They have conjured up lots of slogans promoting staycations, the great outdoors and surfing the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands and Ireland’s Ancient East. The message seems to be: come along and visit, spend your money and then you can take a hike and piss off elsewhere if you’re looking to use the loo or any other services. With all the investment in Blueways and Greenways the authorities here could learn from their counterparts up North where camping facilities in the national parks, municipal facilities and initiatives such as the Touring in the Trees by the forestry service are streets ahead. It would take just a little imagination and a small investment to facilitate motorhome parking along the new Greenway and Blueway routes. The joint venture between Waterways Ireland and Galway County Council at the marina and motorhome park at Portumna is an exemplar example of what could be achieved at so many other locations.

The failure to do so is not only bad form, it’s bad business and is not the way to treat any tourists. It’s also impacting on day-trippers when they converge in large numbers to beaches and scenic areas. The local authorities have got to get their act together and instead of erecting barriers, complaining about congestion at beauty spots and citing extreme examples of anti-social behaviour to justify their own shortcomings, they would be better off meeting the challenges and seizing the opportunities and potential of the home grown tourism market, including the significant motorhome sector.

Central to the lack of investment and respect for campervan commerce is the deeply embedded myth among policy makers that the motorhome community aren’t good spenders and the only thing they leave in an area after they visit is a mess. We’ve seen the reports from the local media right across the country from Donegal to Wexford, Waterford, Wicklow, Clare Mayo and Sligo.

Tramore 18

Mixed messages in Tramore where the few campervan parking spots now have a No Overnight Parking sign for company.

Tramore sign

This trope has to be challenged and dispelled. There’s no point in getting angry or just complaining among ourselves on the various motorhome forums. We have to counter the misconception that we are skinflint litterlouts. But we must do so in a consistent, coherent and credible way.

We have all splashed out and paid good money for our motorhomes and campervan conversions, paid our motor tax, parking charges and hefty VRT. In addition I know we spend and support local businesses throughout rural Ireland when we visit and park up, either in campsites or otherwise. It’s high time we made those points and got that message across.

Portumna marina and Motorhome Park

The marina and motorhome park at Portumna is an exemplar example of what can be achieved to everyone’s benefit, including the local community.

Some places get it. Look at the welcome and services we get in Carlingford, Sneem, Portumna, Cobh, Eyeries, Graignamanagh for instance. Feel free to add to the list. There are over 100 pubs and taverns around the country which welcome motorhomes overnight as part of their offering, including the Westlodge Hotel in Bantry for a tenner a night. They value our custom and know we spend.

Westlodge welcome

Some places get it. The Westlodge Hotel in Bantry encourages motorhome parking on its grounds.

Ill-judged comment and misinformation in the Clare Champion

Last week’s Clare Champion newspaper ran a story under the headline, ‘Benefits of Campervan Tourism Questioned’, with ill-informed comments about us not wanting to spend a penny, only blocking up places and emptying toilet cassettes in public toilets. They were discussing the county’s Tourism Strategy 2030. The Councils should do their homework before brandishing about wild generalities.

I like Clare. I go there a lot. Yes I like to have a barbecue and yes I brew up a coffee in the van in the morning, but I also spend a good bit when I’m down there, all year round. I know many others from the motorhome fraternity who do the same. Instead of getting resentful, I decided to reply. To be fair, the editor of the Clare Champion published my letter in full in this week’s issue and I’m grateful for that. We must engage in the debate and counter such misinformation, challenge inaccuracies, inform public reps and influence public opinion as that’s what shapes policy and investment decisions.

Here’s the letter the Clare Champion printed:

Dear Editor,

I read the article headlined ‘Benefits of campervan tourism questioned’ from last week’s Clare Champion, with both disappointment and disbelief.

Like so many others in the swelling ranks of the motorhome community throughout the entire country I was dismayed at the tone, attitude and downright ill-informed commentary from some of the public representatives on Clare County Council.

Motorhome and campervan tourism is not a new phenomenon at all but it is growing in popularity for a variety of good reasons, and amplified over the past 15 months due to the international travel restrictions.

However, once the passenger holiday ferries set sail once more from Dublin, Cork and Rosslare the motorhome fraternity will not leave the country forever, they will return home to tour our fabulous countryside. They will of course be joined by thousands of others from the UK and Europe as a simple enquiry to Irish Ferries, Brittany Ferries or Stena Line would illustrate.

It’s not rocket science and you don’t need a degree to realise that this is a popular pursuit and a growing segment of the tourism industry worth providing for and benefitting from.

But for too long local authorities and others have treated motorhome holiday makers with suspicion and as second class tourists. There will of course always be skinflints and rogues who will litter.

The Motorhome and campervan community I know are conscientious supporters of local businesses, artisan producers and committed advocates of the Leave No Trace campaign.

Instead of exaggerating some isolated problems it would be better if Clare’s public reps embraced the potential and opportunities provided by motorhome holiday makers. Perhaps make room for them like in Cobh, Sneem and Portumna where your colleagues and local businesses fully appreciate their contribution to the local economy.

Clare has some great campsites, for instance in Doolin and Doonbeg, but it badly needs other overnight parking facilities and French style Aire provision. The two are not mutually exclusive. For instance in Miltown Malbay, local publican Tom Malone is successfully providing such services to mutual benefit.

As an avid campervan enthusiast I take exception to the cheap comments and slights dished out in our direction. We pay our way, all day, every day (and night) in places like Lahinch in Joe’s Café, Looney’s, Vaughan’s, Ben’s Surf Clinic, Lahinch Surf Shop, Flanagan’s, Kenny’s, Celtic T-Shirts, Centra; pizza and crispy craft beers on the deck at Randaddy’s; sourdough bread and delicacies in the Cheese Board in Ennistymon, the farmer’s market or up at the magnificent Food Hall, or out the road in O’Connors of Doolin and ferry tickets to the Aran Islands, as well as our parking ticket, road tax and a hefty 13.3% VRT charge. I could go on out to the Flaggy Shore for superb seafood or the Russell Gallery for cakes and coffees.

Lahinch prom

A full house on the prom in Lahinch. Motorhomers bring business all year round to the seaside town.

The councillors must not be aware that in Ennistymon they have one of the best and most successful campervan conversion companies in the country in Vanderlust where the Enterprise Ireland backed David Hanley and his talented team have an order book full until next April, giving valuable local employment.

If you want to do more research to validate the value of the motorhome community to the tourism and leisure sector then stop complaining and commission some research as your counterparts in Donegal have just done by engaging KPMG to conduct a survey and analysis.

In the meantime I respectfully suggest it’s best to stop insulting and casting aspersions on people who have opted to enjoy and invest in the campervan lifestyle, freedom and fresh air. It’s healthy.

Make them welcome and they will come… and spend.

Yours sincerely,

John Whelan, Co Laois and campervan blogger at Vanhalla – Camper Heaven

Donegal leads the way with motorhome survey

Meanwhile back in Donegal a new survey to get the public’s views on caravan, camper van and camping in Donegal is being underway. This survey, which is being undertaken by KPMG Future Analytics, is part of a study being conducted on behalf of Donegal County Council and will allow members of the pubic to share their thoughts on caravan and camping in Donegal and how best to develop the sector going forward.
“We are keen to hear from the general public in Donegal in terms of their experience of caravan and camping in the county as well as the views of campers who frequently visit the county. We are particularly interested in hearing from businesses operating in the tourism industry as well as from people living in places such as coastal areas where campers tend to visit” said Aoife Doyle, KPMGs lead investigator on the project.

The survey remains open for submissions online until June 4th and it only takes a few minutes to answer the questionnaire. It’s vital that the motorhome community has its say and makes its views known. No point in complaining afterwards. You can access the survey via this link here: Donegal Caravan and Camping Study – Public Survey.

On their website the Council state: “The caravan, camper van and camping sector is an essential and important component of the tourism infrastructure of County Donegal. The sector has to a large extent developed in an organic fashion with the majority of service providers being private sector, with a small number of local Aire de Service locations provided by Donegal County Council.
The study will provide a detailed review of the sector as it currently exists within County Donegal providing an assessment of the opportunities and threats currently presenting for the sector as well as an assessment of good practices elsewhere that could be implemented within existing legislative requirements. This study will help inform how best the sector can be supported so that it can be developed as a valuable offering for visitors to Donegal while also meeting the needs of communities.”

Motorhome Cartoon

It’s going to be another busy staycation summer.

Donegal deserves to be commended for taking the lead in conducting this research. It’s an opportunity for the motorhome, campervan and camping communities to make their views known and to dispel the myth that we are all skinflint litterbugs, not willing to pay for anything and only leave a mess in our wake.

It would be great if other local authorities did the same as Donegal instead of making rash assumptions and unfair assertions about the thousands of motorhome and campervan enthusiasts who will be one of the mainstays of the staycation summer for many local businesses and the employment they afford this summer.

SEE ALSO: Portumna points the way when it comes to motorhome facilities

Lar Lynch and the big white lie at the heart of the #Staycation

The gift horse of camping and the Fungie factor

Killybegs motif

About The Author

John Whelan

John Whelan is a vastly experienced midlands based journalist and editor who has contributed extensively to the country's leading national and regional titles, as well as broadcast outlets. He runs the media services company, Communicate Ireland John is a keen camping and campervan enthusiast with an interest in music, culture, heritage and outdoor pursuits. He has written for the Sunday Times, Sunday Independent and the Woman's Way on these topics. He is also an author, and his latest book, The Last Beekeeper, reflects his love of nature, the landscape and our shared responsibility to protect the environment. The Last Beekeeper is available to preview and purchase at Safe travels...

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