Living in the Burren, American food writer Robb Walsh, speculates on the significance of an Irish visit from the 46th President of the United States.
The Americans are coming! Joe Biden, the most proudly Irish-American US President since Kennedy has Ireland at the top of his agenda. And after the long dry COVID season, expect a visit from Biden to open the floodgates of American tourism. As vaccines are dispersed this Spring and Summer, I’m thinking pent-up demand for travel and tourism combined with the “Biden Effect” will bring a head-spinning surge in U.S. visitors.
New Emerging Patterns
But those Americans may be branching out in different tourism directions once they arrive. As an American ex-pat food and travel writer living in the Burren, I get a lot of calls and emails from the States for Ireland travel advice. From what I’m hearing lately, there will be some new patterns emerging, at least in the near term.
People are looking for “fresh air” destinations in the countryside rather than urban experiences while Covid concerns remain. And if public transit and crowded bars are to be avoided, then car rentals, small, personalised tours and the remote beauty of the rural hinterlands will be sought out. (I expect to spend hours stuck in traffic behind tourists attempting to navigate Clare’s quaint country lanes while stopping to photograph the livestock.)
Cosy bed & breakfast inns (the smaller the better) will enjoy an uptick in business. And I’m guessing self-catering accommodation (both urban and rural), that were gaining bookings before the pandemic, will skyrocket in popularity as travellers seek to enjoy the sights while reducing their contacts. Houses, cottages, and apartments with private entrances will be at a premium.
A Movable Feast
To stock their rented kitchens, tourists will throng grocers, specialty food stores, farmers markets, veg stands, fishmongers stalls and butcher shops. They will be seeking out unique Irish food products and asking for advice about Irish cheeses, sausages, fish, and produce. Handmade sandwiches, artisanal baked goods, and high-quality takeaway meals will be in demand. Sadly, fine dining may lag behind for a while.
Rural restaurants and pubs will see a new wave of customers, especially establishments with picnic tables, patios or other al fresco dining options. A gastropub with a view will be much in demand. Watch for more brilliant tourism promotions like The Wild Atlantic Way to channel these visitors. (The Irish Whiskey Trail? The Irish Seafood Crawl?)
Food tours and “experiences” led by experts will multiply. Oyster tastings, seaweed foraging excursions, Irish brown bread baking lessons, cheesemaker visits and foodie walking tours are among the attractions already popular in my part of the Burren. New ones are popping up all the time.
When the new president stops by for a tour, Mayo, Louth, Galway, (editor: Wexford?) and Donegal, all of which claim Biden ancestors, will enjoy quite a bit of media exposure. Irish restaurants on the presidential motorcade route should take note that Joe Biden favors comfort foods like spaghetti, pepperoni pizza and chicken pot pie.
And as for the bars, Joe Biden doesn’t drink, but First Lady Dr. Jill Biden sometimes enjoys a cocktail or a glass of wine, so maybe they’ll stop into local pub or two after all.
In fact, the new president’s only known food obsession is ice cream. So, if you’re a long lost relative welcoming Joe Biden to an ancestral home, don’t sweat it. Just take him out for a 99.
Robb Walsh is a 3-time winner of the James Beard Award and author of a dozen books on food. He currently resides in New Quay, Co. Clare and blogs about food at IrelandEats.com Follow him on twitter and Instagram @robbwalsh and Facebook.com/robb.walsh