Dublin offers a better quality of life than the UK. But can its economy withstand Brexit?

The incredibly picturesque Samuel Beckett Bridge, in Dublin. Image: Salim Darwiche

Dublin was recently ranked 34th out of 231 global cities on the Mercer Quality of Life Survey 2017It ranked higher than London, which came 40th, and every single other city in the UK and Ireland.

The city’s strength is wide-spread, and spans culture, the economy and the environment. Noel O’Connor, Consultant at Mercer Ireland, remarked that Dublin offers “an excellent choice of consumer goods, lower levels of air pollution, and a stable political and strong socio-cultural environment”.

As such, the Irish capital continues to be an attractive option for businesses seeking a base in north-west Europe, at a lower cost of living than London or Paris.

Indeed, the Irish economy as a whole has enjoyed strong growth in recent years. Last year’s 5.2 per cent growth rate meant that Ireland remained the fastest growing economy in the European Union for the third consecutive year.

Twilight for Dublin? Image: Hans-Peter Bock.

Growing pains

However, the UK’s decision to leave the EU may have already begun to hurt Ireland. Consumer spending growth slowed to 3 per cent in 2016, down from 4.5 per cent in 2015, with a significant dip in the second half of the year. Export growth was the joint lowest that Ireland has seen since 2008, at just 2.4 per cent.

The terms of the trade deal between Britain and the EU are yet to be agreed. Pat Leahy, political editor of the Irish Times, argues that the worst possible outcome would be no agreement between the Britain and the EU, meaning that World Trade Organisation rules (including tariffs of up to 50 per cent on agricultural goods) would apply. “Such an outcome would have the potential to devastate Irish exporters to the UK,” he says.

At a time when export growth is already slowing, this is bad news for the Irish economy. While Ireland’s main export market is the US, with whom it traded €26bn of goods and services in 2015, it still relies heavily on exports to the UK. However, it is worth noting that in the same year, Irish exports to Belgium exceeded the value of Irish exports to the UK.

Such a large trading relationship with the US means that the Trump administration’s preference for protectionist trade policies is of course another significant threat to the Irish export market.

Nobody's quite sure about the big stick but it looks cool. Image: Robzle.

The Home Front

On the domestic front, the outlook is far more promising. The Economic and Social Research Institute is hopeful that the renewed boom in the construction sector could bring Ireland to full employment (defined as a level of unemployment below the post-crash low of 5.6 per cent) by the end of 2018.


The ESRI report found that the housing market is now the main driver of growth in the domestic economy, and emphasised the importance of managing this growth in a sustainable way. Dr. Kieran McQuinn, the report author, commented: “We’re treading a fine line between driving the economy to produce more houses and pushing it into overheating territory.”

Danny McCoy, chief executive of the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation, is also optimistic about the prospect of domestic growth acting as a shock absorber against uncertainty in trade relations with the US and UK. He said:

“The economy is now facing some major external threats… [but] we are facing those threats from a position of economic and fiscal strength…

We must use that position of strength to take more decisive steps to relieve competitiveness pressures which are within our control, by massively ramping up investment in infrastructure, R&D and education.”

Another gratuitous picture of Dublin. Image: Doyler79.

Invest to be the best

While Ireland is now running a budget surplus, and there are signs of strong domestic growth, it is understandable that industry leaders such as McCoy are calling for increased capital investment to protect against external shocks. Directly after the UK triggered Article 50 last month, industry leaders called on the Irish government to exert as much influence as possible to ensure that key exporters receive the best deal possible.

Paul Kelly, director of Food Drink Ireland, said: “The agri-food sector exports €4.1bn of food and drink to the UK and accounts for 43,000 Irish jobs. Agri-food is the Irish sector most exposed to trade disruption, and the Irish Government must do all within its control to ensure minimum impact to the free flow of goods.”

Despite these calls, the fact remains that, as just one of 27 EU states, Ireland has limited influence over the final outcome; this despite the significant implications for trade, immigration and the north/south border.

While the forecast for the export market is fairly bleak, the domestic economy and national budget are both strong. As this Irish writer can confirm, Dublin remains one of the best cities in the world.

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How can we stop city breaks killing our cities?

This couple may look happy, but they’re destroying Barcelona. Image: Getty.

Can’t wait to pack your bags and head off on holiday again? It used to be that people would look forward to a long break in summer – but now tourists have got used to regular short breaks through the year. We love to jet off to the world’s glittering cities, even if only for a day or two. The trouble is, binge travelling may be killing the places we visit.

You may even have seen some “tourists go home” graffiti on your last trip, and it’s not hard to see why. Barcelona is a good example of how a city can groan under the weight of its popularity. It now has the busiest cruise port, and the second fastest growing airport in Europe. Walking through the Barcelona streets at peak season (which now never seems to end) flings you into a relentless stream of tourists. They fill the city’s hot spots in search of “authentic” tapas and sangria, and a bit of culture under the sun. The mayor has echoed residents’ concerns over the impact of tourism; a strategic plan has been put in place.

It is true though, that cities tend to start managing the impact of tourism only when it is already too late. It creeps up on them. Unlike visitors to purpose-built beach destinations and national parks, city-break tourists use the same infrastructure as the locals: existing systems start slowly to stretch at the seams. Business travellers, stag parties and museum visitors will all use existing leisure facilities.

‘Meet the friendly locals’, they said. Image: Sterling Ely/Flickrcreative commons.

Barcelona may only be the 59th largest city in the world, but it is the 12th most popular with international visitors. Compared to London or Paris, it is small, and tourism has spiked sharply since the 1992 Olympics rather than grown steadily as in other European favourites like Rome.

Growth is relentless. The UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) even speaks about tourism as a right for all citizens, and citizens are increasingly exercising that right: from 1bn international travellers today, we will grow to 1.8bn by 2030, according to UNWTO forecasts.

Faced with this gathering storm, just who is tourism supposed to benefit? Travellers, cities, residents or the tourism industry?

Market forces

Managing the impact of tourism starts by changing the way destinations market themselves: once the tourists arrive, it’s too late. Tourism authorities need to understand that they are accountable to the city, not to the tourism industry. When the city of Barcelona commissioned the University of Surrey to look into how it might best promote sustainable development, we found a series of techniques which have been incorporated, at least in part, into the city’s 2020 Tourism Strategy.

In the simplest terms, the trick is to cajole tourists into city breaks which are far less of a burden on the urban infrastructure. In other words, normalising the consumption of sustainable tourism products and services. In Copenhagen, 70 per cent of the hotels are certified as sustainable and the municipal authority demands sustainability from its suppliers.

Higher than the sun. A primal scream from the world’s cities? Image: Josep Tomàs/Flickr/creative commons.

Destinations must also be accountable for the transport impact of their visitors. The marketing department might prefer a Japanese tourist to Barcelona because on average they will spend €40 more than a French tourist – according to unpublished data from the Barcelona Tourist Board – but the carbon footprint we collectively pay for is not taken into account.

Crucially, for the kind of city breaks we might enjoy in Barcelona, most of the carbon footprint from your holiday is from your transport. Short breaks therefore pollute more per night, and so destinations ought to be fighting tooth and nail to get you to stay longer. It seems like a win for tourists too: a few extra days in the Spanish sun, a more relaxing break, and all accompanied by the warm glow of self-satisfaction and a gold star for sustainability.


Destinations can also target customers that behave the most like locals. Japanese first-time visitors to Barcelona will crowd the Sagrada Familia cathedral, while most French tourists are repeat visitors that will spread out to lesser-known parts of the city. Reducing seasonality by emphasising activities that can be done in winter or at less crowded times, and geographically spreading tourism by improving less popular areas and communicating their particular charms can also help reduce pressure on hot spots, much like Amsterdam is doing.

Turnover is vanity, and profit margins are sanity. No city should smugly crow about the sheer volume of visitors through its gates. If tourism is here to stay, then the least cities can do is to sell products that will have the greatest benefit for society. Whether it’s Barcelona, Berlin, Bologna or Bognor, there should be a focus on locally and ethically produced products and services which residents are proud to sell. Tourist boards should work with small businesses that offer creative and original things to do and places to stay, adding breadth to the city’s offering.

The ConversationWhether Barcelona will introduce these ideas will depend on the bravery of politicians and buy-in from the powerful businesses which are happily making short-term profits at the expense of residents and the planet. It is possible to do things differently, and for everyone to benefit more. It may be that the tipping point lies in the age-old mechanics of supply and demand: bear that in mind next time you’re booking a quick city break that looks like it’s only adding to the problem.

Xavier Font is professor of marketing at the University of Surrey.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.