Cork County on the Rise: Cork has so much to offer the visitor and local alike

Tailoring holiday offerings is key to attracting the type of tourist you want, writes Jenny De Saulies

Cork County on the Rise: Cork has so much to offer the visitor and local alike

Tailoring holiday offerings is key to attracting the type of tourist you want, writes Jenny De Saulies

WITH tourism contributing more revenue to communities than ever before, how can we ensure that Cork continues to get a good slice of the pie with Brexit on the horizon?

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to attracting tourists from our core overseas markets and Cork needs to be at the top of its game when it comes to standing out from the crowd, especially at a time when tourists are becoming more discerning and competition more intense.

Fáilte Ireland research shows that German visitors like to explore nature, whereas French holidaymakers enjoy finding hidden gems, away from perceived tourist hotspots.

British visitors generally come to Ireland for a short break so for them easy access is key. They look for urban hubs close to the countryside. On the other hand, our US tourists come for much longer stays and want to soak up the atmosphere and experience Ireland’s authentic culture as part of both city and rural experiences.

So how can Cork appeal to this mix of holiday motivators and what benefit will these tourists bring to the county?

The answer to the latter is simple. An overseas tourist can spend anywhere from €72 to €94 per night in an area. This spend is critical for sustaining communities and supporting 260,000 jobs where often tourism is the only major industry.

The solution to the first question is not as clearcut and has helped to shape Fáilte Ireland’s four regional brands namely, Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s Ancient East, Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands, and Dublin.

Each brand offers a unique flavour of our country and are very much designed to appeal to what our core overseas visitors want.

It could be the scenery and rugged coastline of the Wild Atlantic Way, or the experiences that focus on the rich 5,000-year heritage of Ireland’s Ancient East or getting active in nature in Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands or the vibrant multicultural city of Dublin.

In order for Cork to benefit as much as possible from tourism, we have looked at the county’s natural assets and the distinctive experiences they might offer in each area.

The eastern side of Cork is particularly rich in heritage and cultural experiences and, with key locations including Cobh, Youghal and Midleton, the Ireland’s Ancient East brand offers this area the best opportunity to grow its economic return from tourism.

The north and west part of Co Cork, with its proximity to the west coast and rugged landscapes, is an integral part of the Wild Atlantic Way, and Fáilte Ireland is using this regional experience brand as leverage for future growth in the area.

Both sides of the county are supported by Ireland’s second city, Cork, which stands out to tourists for its maritime heritage and provides great access to the region by air, sea, rail and road.

What is most valuable to visitors from all of our core overseas markets is the chance to participate, and not simply be bystanders. Developing world-class visitor attractions is integral to attracting overseas visitors to the regions.

This is why Fáilte Ireland has made capital and infrastructure investments of more than €10m in Co Cork over the past decade. Projects such as Spike Island, Dursey Island Cable Car, Old Head of Kinsale Signal Tower, and Fota House and Gardens have all benefited from the investment.

We have also invested significantly in festivals for Cork as they are uniquely placed to attract overseas tourists, particularly during the off-peak season when increased numbers are most needed.

Just last month, our major new Taste the Island campaign got underway with the Taste of West Cork Festival. We all know our food and drink in Ireland is world class, and now, we want everyone else to know too. Through Taste the Island, an all-island initiative, we will significantly enhance Ireland’s reputation for its food and drink.

There are 700 events and tasting experiences taking place from September to November, with places like Clonakilty Distillery, Harty’s Restaurant & Bar in Cloyne, and Kinsale Mead Co showcasing the best of Cork’s culinary gems.

The development of a robust and innovative tourism industry is fundamental to tourism growth and revenue.

IN CO Cork, Fáilte Ireland is working hand-in-glove with tourism businesses to create experiences that can offer the visitor a full itinerary of things to do from visiting heritage sites and craft businesses to eating out and enjoying night-time entertainment. This collaborative approach is critical for encouraging visitors to stay overnight and spend money in the area.

Cork is making significant strides as a leading tourism destination and this is reflected in the figures; it is in the top three most visited counties in Ireland and supports more than 17,000 jobs.

However, there are very clear and immediate stumbling blocks ahead. While tourism figures (revenue and visitors) in Ireland are at their highest, it’s clear that the rate of growth is beginning to soften, with some operators in Cork telling us that they are expecting business to be down on last year.

The major uncertainty caused by Brexit has resulted in overall outbound numbers from the UK stalling and the Brexit effect is also having an impact on our other European markets with future bookings taking a hit.

Times like these, when there are a number of complex external factors at play as well as rising operational costs, remind us of how important it is for the tourism industry to be as competitive as possible and ready to diversify into a wider range of international markets.

It’s important to remember that we are building on what was a record-breaking year in 2018, so these are still some of the highest numbers we’ve ever seen. There are also many opportunities for growth in new markets and, at Fáilte Ireland, we are redoubling our efforts through training and mentoring to prepare businesses for the uncertainties that lie ahead.

Today 23c of every €1 that every visitor spends ends up in the exchequer. That’s massive support for our schools, transport and public services. Every visitor-specific investment is also an asset in a community. The quality of our amenities supports all our lifestyles. Jobs in the regions, seasonal employment and better visitor attractions is a virtuous circle for communities and the national economy alike.

Co Cork is endlessly fascinating and constantly unexpected. We have stunning scenery, interspersed with historic towns. Each has a unique hinterland and history and a specifically local experience.

At Fáilte Ireland, we will continue to give thought to leadership and to offer practical support and assistance to ensure Cork’s tourism industry is authentically in sync with both what our visitors want and who we are as a county.

Jenny De Saulles is director of industry development at Fáilte Ireland and a Cork native

West Cork sea kayaking business makes a splash in holistic tourism

By Áilín Quinlan

Jim Kennedy of Atlantic Sea Kayaking trains on Lough Hyne in West Cork. Picture: Andy Gibson.
Jim Kennedy of Atlantic Sea Kayaking trains on Lough Hyne in West Cork. Picture: Andy Gibson.

A WORLD-CLASS kayaker, with Irish and British titles to his name, Jim Kennedy broke new ground when he established a sea kayaking business in West Cork.

Twenty-five years ago he and his wife Maria founded Atlantic Sea Kayaking with just four kayaks and an offering which consisted of half-day kayaking trips to tourists. The fledgling sea venture was the first of its kind in this country and, he recalls, quite possibly in Europe too.

Today, the company is a global leader in the holistic kayaking tourism sector, employs 14 people, and runs day and night trips year-round, operating off the West Cork coast, in Cork City itself, and as far abroad as Mexico and the US.

More recently, Atlantic Sea Kayaking has expanded its reach with packages offering visitors a mix of kayaking and whale watching, cultural, music, and food events, something which has proven to be hugely popular with visitors from the US and Canada.

“One of our big attractions is the personal touch,” said Jim.

“We bring our clients to places where we know the local people; we go to places like The Corner Bar in Skibbereen, where William the owner will chat to them, teach them how to pull a pint, and introduce them to local musicians.

“That way they get to have a real sense of the local community and that’s very important to us. It’s become very popular, and it’s a segment of our business that is growing very rapidly.” These days, said Jim, the company caters for a wide mix of clients in both the tourism and the corporate sectors, but has not forgotten its rural, marine roots.

“We emphasise sustainability and responsible tourism and we’re very environmentally friendly. We visit local schools to talk about the hazards of plastic for the environment.

“That mix has really worked for us and we are known globally as one of the leaders in this type of holistic kayaking tourism.

“We offer experiential tourism which involves a relatively gentle standard of activity which is very focused on nature, local culture, and local beauty spots; there almost a sense of mindfulness about it,” he said, adding that the company’s night kayaking trips and Coastal Discovery trips which take in local caves and islands are particularly popular.

He said they take people from Ireland, mainland Europe, the UK, North America, Asia, and generally all over the world around the West Cork coast through a variety of packages.

“The area between Mizen Head and Galley Head is our territory.” The company also offers urban kayaking trips down the River Lee and under the bridges. A few years ago, its Cork City river trip was voted one of the Top 10 Urban Kayaking experiences in the world by The Guardian newspaper.

Jim is a strong advocate of the Wild Atlantic Way initiative, which he describes as a stroke of genius, and which, he believes, has played a major role in the increasing popularity of adventure tourism in Ireland.

In recent years, he has also led trips as far away as Mexico, Martha’s Vineyard in the US, Spain, Croatia, and Venice. He’s currently planning a kayaking trip to Cuba in 2020.

Meanwhile, Jim’s own passion for kayaking continues unabated.

He plans to celebrate his 65th birthday by competing in a world-renowned 1,000-mile kayaking race next July.

He is one of just 30 paddlers to be selected for the gruelling and very prestigious Yukon 1,000, the world’s longest non-stop paddle race. Kayakers have just 10 days to paddle 1,000 miles from Canada up to Alaska and into the Arctic Circle.

Jim’s kayaking companion will be Colin Wong, a former employee of Atlantic Kayaking and founder of Emerald Outdoors Guided Tours in Kenmare.

n See www.atlanticseakayaking.com for more information.

Cork venues competing with the cream of the world’s resorts and hotels for business

By Áilín Quinlan

A FEW weeks ago, Seamus Leahy and some of his team from the Fota Island Resort and Kingsley Hotel were in Marrakesh.

The reason — the prestigious International Golf Travel Market, an annual golf trade show for the golf tourism industry which attracts tour operators from all over the world.

The aim — to attract more international leisure travellers to the Cork region.

“You have tour operators from New Zealand, China, the UK, and everywhere in between coming to this show. These are the people who create the tourism packages and programmes,” said Mr Leahy, director of marketing for the Fota collection of hotels.

Like others in the service industry, Seamus attends up to 12 events like this annually, working with Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland to create awareness of Cork as a desirable leisure destination, and as he said, to “get on various programmes and make our destinations known”.

Making the effort brings rewards, he says. Following a conversation with the CEO of a big international events firm at the IGTM event, he recalls, he is now in the running for hosting a big conference with golf elements, scheduled for May 2020, which would bring many large numbers of delegates from all over the world.

“I could be in competition with someone from Scotland or Germany or Spain. You’re not simply competing with other prestigious Irish destinations, you’re competing with the cream of the world’s resorts and hotels.” Awareness is one factor in increasing visitor numbers to a region, but access plays just as big a role in the success of Cork’s tourism industry, he warned.

“Because you’re competing against every other destination in the world, you have to make it very easy for people to get here.

“Cork Airport is very aware of this. It works very hard to make Cork more accessible. Our biggest focus as a region should be on supporting the airport to expand the number of access routes.” However, he pointsto the lack of direct routes from Scandinavia into Cork, adding that even routes from Germany to the region are limited.

“The challenge of increasing access from Europe into Cork needs to be looked that; it’s a real challenge, but I think there are opportunities to do better.” One challenge in this area is the lengthy periods of time necessary to bed in new flight routes — industry sources say that because big trade shows often result in bookings of up to two years in advance, new flight routes often require as much as 24 months to bed in before the airlines experience real usage by leisure travellers.

A third key factor in growing tourism, believe says Leahy, is more acceptance within the hotel sector of the need to learn from other, more tech-savvy businesses — such as airlines, banks, and even bookies — about how to maximise the potential of their online tourism business: “How people communicate and interact online is changing and evolving by the minute.

“Being ready and able to capitalise on that, and understand the size, power and reach of the huge online travel agencies such as Booking.com and Expedia is key to developing, growing and getting more people into the region.

“Instagram, videos, and ease of booking are all things which are crucial to the success and competitiveness of the Irish hotel industry.” However, he warned, as an industry, the hotel sector is “not particularly leading-edge” in terms of online sales and marketing.

There are Irish hotels which are very good at it, he acknowledges, but overall the sector could do better.

“We could all learn from other companies in different retail spaces such as airlines, banks and bookmakers about how they 100% maximise their potential for business.”

Rebel Way driving route set to highlight historical sites

By Áilín Quinlan

Helen Collin (Grand niece of Michael Collins) and Anne Hales (Granddaughter of Tom Hales) at the launch of the Cork Rebel Way at Shanacashel Parish Hall on Sunday.
Helen Collin (Grand niece of Michael Collins) and Anne Hales (Granddaughter of Tom Hales) at the launch of the Cork Rebel Way at Shanacashel Parish Hall on Sunday.

A COMMUNITY-LED tourism initiative featuring a special magazine, a series of maps and an interactive website about the colourful Revolutionary Period from 1916 to the end of the Civil War, will kick off in earnest next year, providing information and highlighting sites of historical interest in West and Mid Cork.

Funding is being sought to support the visionary Cork Rebel Way initiative, a new visitor driving route throughout the region.

The project is spearheaded by a group of local people deeply involved in the history and tourism sector in the region. One of these is Tim Crowley, who along with his wife Dolores founded the Michael Collins Centre, a popular family museum at Castleview outside Clonakilty which attracts some 5,000 visitors annually.

Last August, the Cork Rebel Way organising committee launched the Rebel Way Magazine; so far, 10,000 copies have been distributed across Ireland and the world.

Next year will see the publication of a special map and an interactive website. The map, which will feature 20 of the main sites relating to the Revolutionary Period in the West and Mid Cork area, will come in two formats.

A series of A2-sized illustrated paper versions is scheduled to be launched in April 2020, for distribution to tourist offices, museums, hotels, school libraries and other public outlets.

In tandem with this, a series of large, aluminium, 3ft by 2.5ft maps will be erected at certain historical sites subject to planning permission, and displayed on the walls of museums, hotels, tourism offices and schools.

Next year will also bring the launch of the Cork Rebel Way interactive website, which, says Crowley, will be a one-stop-shop for anyone interested in the revolutionary period in West and Mid Cork.

The committee is in the process of seeking funding for its initiatives from a range of bodies, including Cork County Council, Fáilte Ireland, the West Cork Development Partnership and private sponsors:

“The initial areaenvisaged for The Cork Rebel way will takein the territory from Kinsale in the east, to the Beara Peninsula in the west and from the Wild Atlantic Way along the South Cork coast to the Cork Macroom / Kilarney road (N22) in the North,” Crowley explains.

The Cork Rebel Way area, he adds, is unique in that it holds some of the most important sites associated with the Irish Revolutionary period. Visitors will be guided to well-known sites like Kilmichael, Béal na mBláth and Crossbarry.

However, many lesser-known sites like Newcestown, where the IRA ambushed an Essex Patrol in 1920, Rosscarbery where the attack on the RIC barracks took place in 1921 and Crois na Leanbh near Kilbrittain where four IRA volunteers were shot while trenching a road in1921, will also be spotlighted.

Figures like Michael Collins, Tom Barry, Tom Hales, Sean Hales, Charlie Hurley, Sam Maguire, JJ Walsh, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, Mary Jane Irwin and British officer Major A E Percival, all form part of the story found along the Cork Rebel Way.

The project, Mr Crowley says, is a bottom-up, community-led initiative, which will encourage visitors to visit the small towns, villages and the countryside located off the usual tourist routes.

Information will also be provided on incidents of historical significance over the past 400 years which contributed to what was to occur in the Revolutionary Period.

“There are also many sites on theCork Rebel Way associated with incidents that happened over the last four hundred years, which had an influence on the Revolutionary period later,” Crowley explained.

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