For most people involved in Irish tourism, 2018 was a great year. In spite of economic uncertainty, Brexit scares and always unpredictable weather, Ireland saw record visitor arrival numbers across the island. Over 11 million people from all around the world came to Ireland from elsewhere; attracted by our great worldwide image, fantastic scenery and friendly reputation.
Some of these people came for the first time while many others returned to Ireland having been here on holiday already. Either way, most of the people who came to Ireland for recreational reasons probably visited one or more of what might be called a “tourist attraction.”
What is a tourist attraction? We see “Tourist Attractions” as places or experiences that draw visitors from outside their local area for the specific purpose of visiting them. A tourist attraction is something that you don't necessarily have to book in advance and is open to the public either all the time or during defined hours. In visitor flow, tourist attractions create their own gravity and draw people towards them.
Not all tourist attractions are created equal. Some are an order of magnitude busier than others (sometimes too busy) while some attractions are incredibly busy sometimes and very quiet during others.
Most tourism destinations are seasonal - thats a fact. We all know places that are heaving in August that become ghost towns in November. This can be either a curse or a blessing depending on your perspective but this kind of “seasonality” is no doubt one of the ultimate enemies of the tourist provider. The aim of reducing or defeating seasonality is a critical driver in many tourism projects. But to reduce seasonality, we feel you have to understand it properly.
This got us thinking, what is actually the busiest week of the year for Irish tourist attractions? Is it the August Bank Holiday weekend? Or is it the start of the summer holidays? We could not find a satisfactory answer to this question online, so we decided to do our own research.
With a question like “what is the most popular week of the year for Irish Tourism Attractions,” the answer is probably simple but getting there is not.
We know that you could conduct an exhaustive and costly quantitative survey or somehow look at every attraction's financial performance throughout the year. We could try and emulate Failte Ireland , without their multi-million euro budget, and conduct a questionnaire. Alternatively, we could go around with our clipboards and ask every attraction to tell us what its busiest week of the year is. Undoubtedly that would get answers.
Unfortunately, we are limited by what is practical. We are not even sure if asking people would be reliable - self-reported data is not always the most accurate. However, we reckoned there is probably a far more straightforward method, a method that involves asking google…
Google Trends is a fantastic resource. It enables anyone to see how often a term is searched in google in a relative sense. It is easy to use, simple to understand, and even allows you to compare multiple search terms and download the data into excel.
Most travelers now use internet search to find out about where they are going next. This doesn’t need a whole lot of explanation. When you are abroad and trying to find out about someplace you want to go, you most likely “google” its name. We do it, everyone we know does it, and you probably do it too. Google is everyone’s most familiar travel agent, and when you are in a foreign country where the language is different – it is usually the most understandable and reliable one.
We assumed that, just like we do when we go abroad, visitors to Ireland use Google to find out about where they want to go next. In doing so, they probably also search in google the name of their intended destination. Looking at the search volume for different keywords against time can, therefore, tell us how often people are searching for that keyword. Spikes in search volume can say to us that a keyword is especially popular at that time.
If we use trends to examine the popularity of the names of popular tourist attractions have as keywords, we can, therefore, see how popular they are among searchers at any given time. If a specific tourist attraction is popular on google during a particular period, we can tell that more than likely a lot of people want to go there during that time. Therefore we can say that the attraction is "busy".
Unfortunately, we cannot look at the data for every tourist attraction in Ireland. This is both because there are an awful lot of tourist attractions in this small island and google trends will only let you compare five at a time.
Fortunately, we came up with a compromise.
On the 4th August 2019, Failte Ireland published its 2018 visitor number survey results. The data collected was presented in lists of both paid and unpaid attractions. For the purpose of this study, we looked at paid attractions (attractions people pay a fee to visit).
For these attractions, self-reported numbers (of visitors) and attractions ranked in order of popularity are as follows:
1. Guinness Storehouse - 1,736,156
2. Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience – 1,580,000
3. Dublin Zoo – 1,230,145
4. Book of Kells – 1,057,642
5. Tayto Park – 700,000
6. St Patrick’s Cathedral – 627,199
7. Kylemore Abbey & Garden – 561,657
8. Muckrose House – 550,649
9. Powerscourt House Gardens and Waterfall – 472,523
10. Blarney Castle & Gardens – 460,000
Now we have our list of attractions.
We input the names of Ireland's top ten busiest attractions in 2018 into google trends and then downloaded the data as a .csv file. We opened this file in excel and then plotted time against volume in a line graph.
On the x-axis (bottom of the graph) we have plotted time as the beginning of each week, and on the y-axis, we have the relative volume of the search result which generally goes from 0 (no or very few searches) to 100 (an extremely high amount of searches compared to everything else).
A glance at the graph tells us that the plotted attractions have a distinct spike in the middle of the period followed by another one around Christmas time (week beginning 23rd December).
This ties in quite nicely with our ideas about popular tourist seasons. A closer look at the data itself shows us that the actual most popular weeks are a bit more surprising.
To figure out the most popular individual weeks of the year for the different attractions surveyed, we looked at the different keyword search volumes in more detail. Taking each attraction data as a separate set, we used excels “Max” function to figure out what the biggest number in the collection was what week it fell on.
We backed this up with a bit of qualitative research to make sure that we were not recording erroneous spikes in data as popular weeks. To present the results we have put the attraction and the year into two separate tables 1 and 2. The Attraction name is on the top and the most popular week is on the bottom.
The results are not hugely surprising. As imagined, most (7) of the surveyed attractions have their most popular week during the summer months of May, June, July and August.
However, an unusual springtime spike was noted. Three of the attractions (St.Patricks Catherdral, Blarney Castle and the Guinness Store House) seem to get their most significant search volumes in April and March.
Dublin Zoo seemed to also get its most search volume in late November with the weeks either side of this confirming.
So there you have it, the busiest weeks for Ireland’s top 10 paid attractions according to google trends. It would be interesting to see if this method holds through for other attractions across Ireland. Stay tuned, and we will find out.
Written by Laura Nika on September 9th, 2019