Dublin retailers and restaurateurs saw custom drop by up to 50% over the weekend of Pope Francis’ visit in what many are calling a ‘missed opportunity’. The weekend saw widespread traffic restrictions implemented across Dublin to accommodate the papal visit, with more than 50 road closures. Business groups representing both industries are blaming poor communication around the traffic restrictions for the dramatic fall in sales.
Retail Excellence chief executive Lorraine Higgins said: “There was a 35-40 per cent decline in sales as a consequence and when sales are lost to that extent they can never be made back up.” Ms Higgins said the closures could have been manageable with better information and there was a lack of regard for businesses in the planning of the event.
“Businesses suffered as a consequence of a lack of communication around the papal visit. The understanding among the general public was that Dublin city centre was closed for business,” she said. “ “While there were restrictions on private cars, public transport was still running and it is a great pity that message didn’t get through….I can appreciate the efforts the various authorities have to go through, but the fact of the matter is the Pope wasn’t going through the city centre until some time after 4pm on Saturday, so retailers could have had almost a full day’s trading.”
Restaurants Association of Ireland chief executive Adrian Cummins said the visit was a missed opportunity to highlight what Dublin city centre had to offer. “With so many international media in Ireland this could have been a great showcase for the city, but instead it was a monumental disaster for businesses with people seeing losses of 30 to 50% depending on their location.
” Business organisations had attended a meeting at the start of August with representatives of the Garda, the National Transport Authority (NTA) and the World Meeting of Families organisers, but Mr Cummins said no further information came until the information packs were sent out to businesses and residents last Thursday. By that stage it was too late.” There was no excuse for the lack of communication, Mr Cummins said. “It’s not as if the Pope announced at the beginning of August that he was coming in three weeks’ time, the logistics surrounding this and the communications and liaison with businesses, that should all have been squared off three months ago.”
Dublin Chamber of Commerce spokesman Graeme McQueen said it had been a “tough weekend” for businesses. “This should have been a bumper weekend for retailers with kids going back to school, but it will have been even harder for the non-retail sector – cafes and restaurants – because the loss of business over those two days can’t be recovered.” The level of traffic restriction was “a little bit over the top” but the lack of information made the situation worse.
“Businesses were a bit of an afterthought, and the lack of information for customers meant they either left Dublin, or stayed put in their houses. This could have been a real festival event, and hopefully lessons will be learned for future events.”