CO KERRY LOOKS like it could be set to make a killing out of its new-found Star Wars association.
The most recent Star Wars movies, starting with the just released Force Awakens and continuing at present with the filming of the as-yet unnamed Episode VIII, have been using the remote Skellig Michael island as a major location.
And where you have Star Wars you have major attention – a release from Hotels.com suggests that global online searches for Kerry are up 30% year-on-year.
More specifically, such searches are up 60% in the US, and a massive 160% in the UK.
Star Wars tourism is alive and well.
With the tourist season fast approaching (the time-frame for visiting the Skelligs by boat generally stretches from April to mid-September) TheJournal.ie spoke to some local businesses to get a feel for what impact the filming of The Force Awakens may have had on the locality.
It seems that the season to come is set to be a big one, as fans of the movies digest the truly stunning Skellig scenery and set their sights on a trip to see where the movie was made.
What the locals say
Kate Lewis of the Royal Valentia Hotel on Valentia Island, the closest land to Skellig Michael (which is situated about seven miles offshore), says the big impact of the franchise-filming hasn’t yet been felt, but it’s on its way.
“At the moment the impact hasn’t been huge; people have been talking a lot about it and how it’s going to have a huge impact, but we haven’t seen it really yet,” she says.
The Royal Valentia has had a number of production staff stay under its roof during the Star Wars shooting schedule.
We’re very hopeful as to the impact we’ll see. A lot of people will try and use it to their advantage, and there will be a lot planned.
People are very excited.
Mike Faulkner meanwhile, owner of the Ferry Boat guest house in Portmagee (from where the production company embark for their daily trip to the Skelligs), has seen something of an explosion in online interest in the area.
“We have never had the amount of forward bookings that we are seeing at present in the 15 years we’ve been here,” he told us.
Last year we had our first booking from Japan, specifically related to Star Wars. We have a number of Australians coming, again specifically because of Star Wars.
Most bookings are anonymous, but still, the sheer volume is so great I would imagine it has to be related.
Mike and his wife are aged in their 70s and are not planning a wholesale rebranding of their business to tap into Star Wars-mania.
I don’t think we’re big enough, but 90% of people who stay here do so with a view to visiting the Skelligs as we work very closely with the boat companies. So I’m sure we’ll benefit.
“Definitely in the summer we’ll be seeing a lot of Star Wars stuff,” agrees Shane O’Connor of the Ring Lyne pub on Valentia.
Other businesses in the area have put a star wars theme, like they’ll have done up a room or two and named them for the movie.
We’ll probably look at having themed salt and pepper shakers, t-shirts, that kind of thing. Skellig Wars t-shirts are already doing good business. There’s the image of a puffin in a Darth Vader helmet. There’s a lot going on.
Shane hasn’t seen the new Star Wars, mostly because he’s trying to work his way through the older ones first.
“I’ve heard the Skelligs look amazing though – and this being where they were shot I’m sure is going to have a huge impact. The photos of Luke Skywalker pulling pints and the like does no harm,” he says.
The likes of Killarney and Waterville around here already attract huge American tourism, and now we could have this knock-on effect. I would say in two summers time the area is going to be doing serious Star Wars-related business.
The official line
TheJournal.ie contacted tourism body Fáilte Ireland to get a feel for what kind of business the Kerry area is doing, and what effect they can see the filming of Star Wars on the Skelligs having on the region.
The numbers for 2015 haven’t yet been finalised it seems, while naturally 2016 is the year when the initial spate of Force-related tourism can be expected. So the real time for comparison will come after next summer.
That aside, the region didn’t do badly at all in 2014, with over one million overseas visitors and homegrown trips numbering almost 700,000.
The Wild Atlantic Way effect was already being felt it seems, while Fáilte Ireland are projecting a 6% growth in tourism in the county next year.
“Between the Wild Atlantic Way and the recent Star Wars filming on Skellig Michael Kerry’s profile has never been higher,” a Fáilte Ireland spokesman said.
The pull of having the world’s biggest movie franchise hasn’t been lost on our tourism-chiefs:
A film like Star Wars, with its incredibly loyal and committed fan-base, will raise the profile of the Wild Atlantic Way even further and, we hope, encourage many more domestic consumers to get out there and discover one of our most beautiful natural assets – our wild rugged Atlantic coast.
The future looks bright in the south-west and no mistake, it’s a good thing Luke Skywalker decided to retire here.