Adventure sports a lucrative endeavour - worth over €850m in value to economy

A tough mudder.

In a month where many of us contemplate the laziness of summer holidays spent idling on the beach, increasing numbers of Irish people look to the exact opposite for their particular brand of leisure.

In recent years, the adventure sports sector in Ireland has successfully carved out a growing niche for thousands of participants keen to test their stamina in a variety of endurance events tailored to all ages and fitness levels.

Set over courses that encompass cycling, mountain running, trail hiking and kayaking, they dot the entire country and operate on a year-round basis.

Over the coming months, for instance, one can take on The Beast of Ballyhoura, the Moonlight Challenge, Emerald Enduro Series, Race2Glory, Tough Mudder and Gaelforce West, to name but a few from the constantly growing list of activity events.

Adventure sports have become a major boon to Irish tourism and are all the more prized by businesses for their frequent off-season scheduling. In 2014, 700 delegates from across the world arrived in Killarney, Co Kerry, to attend the Adventure Travel Trade Association’s Global Summit, the first time Ireland was chosen to host the event.

The summit reflected the fact that Ireland, long recognised for its friendly people and varied culture, is now increasingly seen as a destination with a profusion of natural assets capable of delivering unique adventure experiences.

The global adventure travel market is estimated at €80bn, and the National Tourism Development body estimates the value of the sector to Ireland’s economy at over €850m and growing.

The Adventure Travel Trade Association’s strategic director Russell Walters, says adventure travel is no longer just for the fittest of the fit.

“Ten years ago, adventure travel was defined as risky, exciting and might have focused on real hardcore, energetic activities. Today, there’s been a maturing of the market, which, in and of itself, helps to broaden the appeal and broaden the growth of the market,” he said.

Oliver Kirwan set up Killarney-based Elite Event Management with his business partner Catriona O’Callaghan in 2011.

“We started six years ago with 500 participants in the first Killarney Adventure Race, an event that has now grown it to over 3,000 participants, making it the biggest event of its kind in the world,” he said.

Branded as the Quest Adventure Series, the company now runs events all over the country, with last year’s October event in Killarney reaping an estimated €3.5m windfall in everything from accommodation to restaurants and retail.

Offering a one-day multi-sport event, comprising running, hiking, cycling and kayaking against the stunning backdrop of the famous Gap of Dunloe and Killarney National Park, the event has five route options, from 27km to 70km and is suitable for all fitness levels. Quest Killarney was voted the best outdoor event of the year by the readers of Ireland’s leading outdoor magazine, Outsider.

“Over 30,000 people take part in our events annually across Ireland and in the UK,” said Mr Kirwan. “The industry has really taken off in here, and we are well up there and often ahead of the UK and USA. This is an industry with enormous potential,” he said.

As well as national events like Quest Glendalough and Achill, the company has already begun to develop international destinations.

“Our aim is to have our first international Quest event in 2017 in mainland Europe and further international expansion in the UK and north America planned for 2017/18/19 as well,” Mr Kirwan said.


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