New tourism brand may be country’s hidden weapon

With overseas visits to Ireland up by 7.6% for the first five months of 2018, it seems likely the current tourist season will deliver another record year in terms of revenue, writes John Daly.

North America and mainland Europe are both up over 12%, and arrivals from the UK are ahead by 2.4% — despite the fall in sterling and Brexit concerns.

However, Fáilte Ireland is not resting on its laurels and has, in the past week, begun an advertising campaign for ‘Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands’, the country’s latest tourism experience.

Long overlooked and living in the shadow of the much higher profile Ancient East and Wild Atlantic Way, this midland region of lakes, walks, and blueways could well turn out to be a source of rich visitor revenue in the years ahead. Extending across the heart of the country, from Leitrim down to east Clare and through Longford, Roscommon, Galway, Westmeath, and Cavan, it offers an Ireland relatively untouched in comparison to the other well trafficked regions that surround it.

A total of €2m has been allocated to start the development stage of the brand, with the ad campaign extending across radio and television, including TV3, The Sunday Game, Coronation Street, Fair City, and the RTÉ News.

The brand was developed following research with over 10,000 consumers in Ireland, the US, Britain, Germany, and France.

While the Wild Atlantic Way and Ancient East have established themselves as rugged scenery and culturally history destinations, respectively, the latest addition seems well-placed to appeal to the growing tourism trend for a softer vacation experience, encouraging visitors to be ‘active in nature’ and to explore off the beaten track through activities such as walking, cycling, fishing, and food.

The brand has resonated strongly in research across its target markets.

The River Shannon will be a central focus of the brand with a Shannon masterplan currently being developed by Fáilte Ireland in partnership with Waterways Ireland to drive tourism opportunities both on and off the water, and around the towns surrounding it. A further asset will be the Beara Breifne Way, a walking trail spanning the whole region, and which will be developed incorporating a number of towns as destination hubs.

“The overwhelming feedback is that visitors from key markets want the opportunity to explore Ireland’s natural gems and rural communities,” said Fáilte Ireland chief executive Paul Kelly.

“We believe that sustainable growth in tourism will depend on greater regional and seasonal activity and this new brand will go a long way in driving that — as well as economic and employment growth — across the midlands.”

Acknowledging that it will take a number of years for the region to realise its full potential, he said the current focus will be on working closely with key partners and communities across the region to develop the visitor experiences that will be central to the success of Ireland’s latest regional brand.

With a 75% audience reach planned over the coming weeks, the ongoing campaign is employing a visual style to place its viewing audience in the activities and landscape of the area, centred around the idea of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands being ‘Yours to Uncover’.

It features natural gems across the region, including the hills of Drumshanbo as well as Glenade Lough in Leitrim; Lough Ree in Athlone; and Lough Key Forest Park and Cortober in Roscommon.

In tandem with the advertising campaign, Fáilte Ireland has marked a further milestone for the newest regional brand with the appointment of a dedicated head of operations tasked with developing its potential.

That person is Paddy Matthews, formerly head of attractions at the agency and someone who worked on the development of the Wild Atlantic Way. His new role encompasses embedding and developing the brand with the tourism industry across the region.

“Over the last 12 years with Fáilte Ireland, I’ve seen first hand the potential the region has as a visitor destination,” he said.

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