You might think that the latest Destinations & Travel Management Summit was only about business trips.  Yet before you book for some (sub-)tropical paradise, take heed of the advice that applies to all travellers.


Jon Bolger of the Institute of Travel Management started by noting that the offers for consumer and commercial tourism were becoming blurred, and he warned that technology would become more disruptive than ever.   Two major hotel groups have already got rid of room-keys – not the metal ones, but even the swipe-cards.


Bolger predicted that the time was approaching when any move, from booking a flight to opening the room-fridge, would require wearable devices, anything from watches to glasses.    He also said that consolidation among hotels and airlines was about to give them leverage over prices.


An even more important lecture, whether you are going for business or pleasure, was given by Lloyd Figgins who has been in both the army and police.   He summarised his 2016 book, Looking for Lemmons, a survival guide with an introduction by Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

Knock.JBB – basilica 1

Let me mention just three of his many tips for avoiding or offsetting disasters.  Never enter a vehicle without a seat-belt – or else buy a portable one.  Most illnesses abroad can be traced to bacteria on food, so watch hygiene.  Do not post selfies or other travel details on social media, because criminals  –  from robbers and rapists abroad to burglars and muggers at home  –  hack those platforms.


Environmental concern was raised by Jon Proctor of Green Tourism whose work

in the Highlands and Islands has helped Scotland take a lead in reducing carbon emissions.   He said that Glenuig Inn near Oban reached 100% renewable energy in 2015.  Proctor also prophesied that electric aircraft would ply between London and Amsterdam in ten years’ time.


I myself gave a lecture entitled Public Relations in Tourism, with case-studies of both good and bad campaigns.  Having been PR Manager at the old, single Belgian National Tourist Office some years ago, it was my opportunity to complain about today’s many untrained press officers, and I strongly advised against hiring expensive PR agencies.


The meeting brought 150 suppliers and buyers, some arriving on Stansted Express, to the airport’s Radisson Blu where the breakfast buffet opens at 4 a.m.  This was a godsend, because I left on Ryanair’s dawn flight to Aerfort Iarthar Éireann Chnoc Mhuire  (Ireland West Airport at Mary’s Hill to non-Gaelic speakers.)


Between Easter and October, the airline carries half of the 1½ million pilgrims to Knock where, in 1879, a few parishioners noticed, or were called to see, a luminous Biblical scene on the church’s gable.  Their pastor, Archdeacon Cavanagh, was commendably non-committal, but ecclesiastic investigations between then and 1936 ruled out hoax, occult, projection, conspiracy or hallucinating.


During the centennial year, John Paul II said Mass at the newly built basilica which is Ireland’s largest religious building.   The present pope is being invited to go there next year once the old church – its gable now enclosed as a shrine – is repaired.


None of the 15 village visionaries, who ranged from turf-cutter to housewife, has been canonised – unlike at Lourdes or Fatima.    Yet all Connaught (Connacht) blesses the late Monsignor Greeley, after whom the local highway is named, because he cajoled Dublin into finally building the airport in 1985.


It is all on a newsreel in Knock Museum that also displays an unholy poem about the shenanigans between the Fine Gael and Fianna Fail parties before any concrete was mixed. Various panels, photographs, articles and replicas portray the social and economic life of the peasantry in bygone days.


An even greater historical collection covers three floors in Musaeum Cathrach na Gaillimhe in Galway City, lying 58 kilometers (it was 31 English miles before the booming EU era) to the south.  The new building was opened in 2006 on the banks of the rushing River Corrib and close to the old Spanish Arch that recalls the mediaeval wine-trade.  Galway is supposed to be capital of the Gaelic region (Gaeltacht),  but has become the most multilingual and cosmopolitan city in all Ireland.


There was even a Breton (Galway is twinned with Lorient) among the folk-musicians at Taaffes Bar, established in 1865, while the November session of Over the Edge in Galway’s public library included poets from Austria and Cornwall.  The organiser was Susan Millar DuMars, a much-published writer from Philadelphia.


I stayed at Asgard Guesthouse for 50 euros, including Full Irish Breakfast in a conservatory overlooking a luxuriant garden.  This is in College Road (bothar na Chόllaiste), which is where my great-grandfather was born in 1824 before sailing the seven seas as a master mariner.   Knock cost me only 30 euros at St Teresa’s hostel belonging to the Little Way Association, a charity for missionaries.   Hot breakfast was cooked by a South African volunteer, but guests can prepare other meals in the kitchen.


Finally, back to public relations!   Ireland’s touristic promotion has become an apathetic, overlapping  bureaucracy that would have defeated Finn McCool  (Fionn  mac Cumhaill) in his mythical wanderings through what was once called Innisfail, the island of destiny.   And Stansted’s security staff need a lesson in courtesy.