Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence


Cultural and economic geography, Archaeology

Publication Details

ICOT (International Conference on Tourism 2020) Virtual Conference. 17th-18th September 2020.


Engaging with the local: a shift in visitor profile at Heritage Sites

The island of Ireland has three World Heritage Sites (WHS). Two of these sites are located in the Republic of Ireland and are operated by the Office of Public Works (OPW): Skellig Micheal (inscribed 1996), and Bru Na Boinne, the Bend in the Boyne complex of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth and wider area (inscribed 1993). In 2018, Skellig Michael attracted 16,792, and the Bru Na Boinne, 321,193. Both sites have been under pressure from visitor numbers over the last number of years with Skellig Micheal, exceeding the annual recommended visitor number in 2018, however Bru Na Boinne has seen less impact due to its multiple sites, management and extensive nature. The site has seen recent investment (2020) of the visitor experience to the tune of €4.5m.

In 2020, Skellig Michael, due to restrictions in place for Covid 19, did not open due to safety concerns for visitors, as it is an island with steep steps to monastery quarters and social distancing is difficult. The Bru Na Boinne Visitor Centre opened late post-Covid restrictions (July 31st) and pre-booked guided tours requiring mandatory face-covering are available to the exterior of the site. As a requirement managing access to the site, a shuttle bus brings visitors to the site itself.

Bru Na Boinne, County Meath is a key tourist attraction particularly in light of its proximity to Dublin. Considerable research has been undertaken of the site through projects such as the Discovery Programme and those funded by the Heritage Council which primarily focus on its archaeology and Outstanding Universal Value (OUV). Tourism is identified to have an impact on the site, and research is required into this and the visitor experience (Bru Na Boinne WHS Research Framework 2009). As with many other heritage sites, Covid 19 has created a different set of parameters which are currently being imposed and negotiated. What changes have and are taking place? and how can they be managed as part of a plan?

This paper reviews the decrease in visitor numbers, the management of the site post-Covid-19 and implications of the change in visitor profile from international to domestic visitors.