All parts of County Galway will benefit from being part of a tourism strategy when a Wild Atlantic Way Region and a new marketing brand promoting the midlands will be launched in 2018.
The two new initiatives will provide a very tangible tourism boost to areas which claim to have been ignored by Fáilte Ireland, according to the outgoing head of the Wild Atlantic Way, Fiona Monaghan.
The midlands branding will aim to replicate the successes of the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s Ancient East and Dublin: A Breath of Fresh Air.
The proposed brand, set to be unveiled by the end of next March, will run from east Galway to Westmeath and south from Cavan down to Killaloe in Co Clare.
“This will involve a significant investment in infrastructure, in marketing – initially targeting the home market before it’s extended internationally. There are recognised gaps in this area so there needs to be major investment with partners such as the local authorities, the OPW (Office of Public Works), the NPWS (National Parks and Wildlife Service) with grant scheme for private businesses.”
The Wild Atlantic Way Region will be launched in early 2018 showcasing areas not physically on the 2,750km driving route to encourage visitors to go off the beaten path and explore.
“Businesses in this new region will carry a new logo, they will be offered all the support available to Wild Atlantic Way towns and villages and we will run workshops to give them to tools to make the most of the designation.
“The aim is that every county will be part of one of the four brands in some shape or form and nowhere gets left behind.”
The rewards could well prove lucrative, if the experience of the industry in 2017 is anything to go by.
While figures per region have not yet been broken down, Fáilte Ireland expects forecasts of a 4% increase in overseas tourists as well as domestic visitors in the west to be reached – and in some areas exceeded.
Nationally there was a jump of 16% in tourists from North America while the number of mainland Europeans increased by 4.5% to the end of October. British visitors were down by 6%.
“The North American market was especially strong for the west – as was the French and German market who are drawn to Galway and Connemara as they like that rugged coastline and the island. In fact, there was a big increase in interest in the island experience and Galway is lucky in that it has the Aran Islands and Inisbofin, both very different experiences,” explained Fiona.
The forecast for 2018 is for national growth of 3%, but some parts of the Wild Atlantic Way less trafficked will likely exceed that as demand further increases.
“We are spending a lot of time encouraging accommodation providers and attractions to stay open in the shoulder seasons. We are often surprised businesses don’t know how much it costs to put on the lights, keep staff on in order to break even and make a profit. Sometimes it’s a lot smaller than they think and they only close because it’s traditional to do so,” said the marketing executive.
“Clifden was traditionally a six-month destination – it’s become at least eight months; Dingle is now open ten months. You see in Clifden a big contingent decamping from Dublin to Clifden for the New Year for a family getaway since the recession.”
Fáilte Ireland plans to extend the loop of the Wild Atlantic Way to Loughrea, Gort, Craughwell and Oranmore in 2018.
After a long period of consultation with stakeholders, they will launch a visitor experience plan in early January giving out ideas for activities and trips within the region.
With the designation of European Region of Gastronomy 2018, Fáilte Ireland will be targeting overseas and local ‘foodies’, who tend to spend higher and stay longer.
Figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show that spending in Ireland by overseas visitors for the first nine months of the year rose by 5% compared with the corresponding period of 2016.