Arch Bunker in Dublin

Arthur’s Day has been called off, and not because of Rosh Hashanah.

The last Thursday in September, this international music event was cooked up in 2009 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Guinness’s St. James’s Gate brewery by the stout-hearted marketers at London-based Diageo (“Keep Walking.” “To Life, Love and Loot.” “Gentlemen, this is vodka.”).* You were supposed to raise your glass to Arthur at 17:59, marking the year he signed the legendary 9,000-year lease on the four-acre Dublin complex.

Criticized for glorifying binge drinking, burdening ambulance services, and contributing to liver disease, Arthur’s Day morphed into Guinness Amplify, a five-weekend series of events “championing up-and-coming musicians across Ireland with over 500 live gigs and industry opportunities.” It wraps up in Dublin October 9-12.

When I went to Dublin a year ago June, I had never been to Ireland. It turned out that the people I knew who had been to Ireland had skipped Dublin, in most cases flying into Shannon. Some with Irish roots, some without, they had in mind the type of imagery deployed by an Irish Tourist Board (Bord Fáilte Éireann) advertising campaign of the 1980s: “Ireland, The Ancient Birthplace of Good Times.”

The campaign, which won four CLIOs in 1990, was created by Joe O’Neill and Tony Angotti, then of Hill Holliday Connors Cosmopulos. As described on the website of McPherson Chicago (David McPherson is a Hill Holliday alum):

Hill Holliday/New York’s planning and creative teams proposed that the real appeal of a trip to Ireland was to experience the Irish “postcard” that their target audience carried in their heads and hearts – that is that the land, its history and its people were what tugged travelers towards the Emerald Isle, and these emotional motivations needed to be communicated with a wit and charm uniquely Irish.

A few years later, the Celtic Tiger (An Tíogar Ceilteach) grew up and got loose (then struggled in the early 2000s and finally died in the Great Recession). Though I didn’t follow the shifts in the country’s tourism product and marketing, the word was that dog-eared village charm was at a premium.

The island is now being marketed as a whole. Tourism Ireland, established as part of the Belfast Agreement of Good Friday 1998, works with both Fáilte Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. The slogan for the United States, pushing proximity, is “Jump into Ireland.” One of the current offers is called “5 night Capital Chic, Dublin and Belfast in Luxury” (book by November 30, from $999 per person).

According to Fáilte Ireland’s Dublin Pocket Guide, “Guinness Storehouse is Ireland’s Number One Visitor Attraction and you simply cannot leave Dublin without having paid a visit.” We paid a visit (18 euros apiece), but had a hard time figuring out where to enter the high walls of historic soot-stained brick. It seems that only a small percentage of the million-plus annual visitors are the kind of hard-drinking art lovers who hoof it from the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

And this is my point. Guinness Storehouse is an attraction, that is, a gated experience (specifically, a St. James’s Gated Experience). It’s not a destination, that is, a place with a name connected to images in the minds of prospective visitors, accessible 24-7, and more than the sum of the attractions it contains (see my post of two weeks ago, “And Abide Quietly in Your Home”).

When an attraction barely interacts with its immediate surroundings and the majority of visitors arrive and depart in sealed vehicles (cars, taxis, shuttles, tour buses), we are dealing with fortress or bunker tourism.

By providing parking, shopping (Guinness Flagship Retail Store), dining (Arthur’s Bar, the Brewer’s Dining Hall, Gilroy’s Restaurant), exhibits (several floors covering Guinness history, how the beer is made, advertising since 1929, etc.), and programs (cooking demonstrations, St. Patrick’s Festival, etc.), Guinness Storehouse can induce visitors to spend more time and money within its walls.

To top it off, adult admission includes a pint in the Gravity Bar, with rooftop 360-degree views. Insider tip: Show good-natured enthusiasm for your pint and visitors who don’t fancy stout will offer you their coupons.

As an aboveground bunker, Guinness Storehouse would be called in German a Hochbunker. But it’s what I call an arch bunker, an attraction that chooses to bear the full weight of attracting visitors through its programming and marketing. Like their namesake, the paterfamilias of All in the Family, arch bunkers do not play well with others.

This is not to say that an arch-bunker strategy can’t succeed (obviously, it can, in a big way) or that it is harmful to the associated destinations (to be discussed next week).

Right outside the Storehouse when we left were horse-drawn carriages whose drivers “communicated with a wit and charm uniquely Irish.” We decided not to “Keep Walking.”

* Also the geniuses who changed the name of Sambuca Romana to Romana Sambuca.


One thought on “Arch Bunker in Dublin

  1. Your observations are “spot on” but, if you can believe it
    , we had a pefectly wonderful three-day visit to Dublin and never once set foot in the Guiness bunker.

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