The Association of Irish Racecourses (AIR) and its members are hopeful of better times to come following a successful festival at Galway this week. Some 1,000 paying customers a day got to enjoy the busiest meeting that many of us have witnessed in quite some time.
Katie Walsh shed some light on what it was like during an upbeat interview on Newstalk during the week, commenting: “We are definitely getting there!”
She praised the team at Galway Races for pulling out all the stops to make it feel like a festival again, following last year’s event being run behind closed doors.
“They’ve made it quite condensed, so everyone is as close as they can be within Covid guidelines. So there are nice covered areas, there are benches, loads of places for people sit down, loads of choices of food for people to eat; there’s even a band and I can’t remember the last time I’ve been somewhere that I’ve heard a band!
“You know, it was quite refreshing to be outside and to hear a band and then you had the racing on top of it. So this year, compared to last year, it really felt like Galway. There was an atmosphere.”
Walsh also commented that there were 18,000 people in Croke Park at the weekend and, combined with the 7,000 that got to go to the Galway Races, she feels we’re getting there, a sentiment shared by many sports enthusiasts nationwide who are keen to get back to seeing the sports they love in person once again.
As racecourses welcome punters back there is much effort behind the scenes to do so safely, and in a way that will make the racegoers experience as enjoyable as possible. For those of you who have yet to get back to the track, notable changes include pre-purchase only tickets, with lots of signage and stewardship to keep everyone compliant and safe.
There has been a lot of investment in outdoor coverings and furniture to ensure there are plenty of options for customers. Operations, policies and procedures vary at individual racecourses, so racegoers are advised to make themselves familiar with requirements for admission to each racecourse.
Racecourse personnel have been working together more than ever in recent months. A collaborative approach to develop best practice and learn from one another in these unprecedented times is very apparent. Forums have been developed to find new and creative ways of attracting racegoers, and offering an enhanced customer experience at individual racecourses.
A recent marketing forum hosted by Horse Racing Ireland reviewed operations and communications at Down Royal and the Curragh racecourses, who were among the first tracks to welcome racegoers back. The forum was conducted online and a vast amount of knowledge and experience was shared with participants to learn from, adapt accordingly, and roll out at all our racecourses.
The need for informational and directional signage is extremely important. How racecourses are communicating with their customers to ensure compliance, peace of mind and an enjoyable race day experience for those in attendance is a top-line agenda item at tracks nationwide.
AIR hosts a regular racecourse manager’s forum to help with peer to peer learning and knowledge sharing, as well as being a networking opportunity. It offers racecourses the chance to engage as a collective and air any issues or concerns that need attention and support from the Association.
The feeling that “we are definitely getting there”, as Katie quite aptly put it in her Galway interview, is very apparent, and anticipation is building amongst AIR members nationwide.
By Leo Powell