JOE GILL: How tech is re-booting traditional tourist trails

Technology and tourism collided for me last weekend and — in the process — provided some insight to how one benefits the other.

My wife and I were introduced to the economic, environmental and leisure advantages of e-bikes during a visit to France a couple of years ago.

In the interim, rapid advances in technology have brought these machines to levels where a comfortable distance of up to 100km can be covered before a recharge.

Aside from generating zero emissions these bicycles allow people of all ages to enjoy the fresh air while either commuting or enjoying tourist attractions.

The latter includes the recently opened Waterford Greenway, which stretches for 40km between Waterford and Dungarvan.

This ingenious innovation has converted a disused railway line into a cycle and walking route that is regenerating economic activity along its route.

Pubs that were on the point of extinction and small shops have found a new lease of life as families and other tourists have flocked to the route which covers some of the best views of sea and mountains in Ireland.

It was a scary 30 years ago since we had last toured this part of the country. A comparison between then and now illustrates how technology is transforming access to and utilisation of various tourism-related products.

Then, I had a basic limited range mobile phone with no data. Now, I can find places instantly on a map app. Back then, accommodation was a struggle to check availability in. Today, I have a myriad of online booking options that include everything from hotels to AirBnB.

In 1988, greenways did not exist, cruise ships were not visiting Waterford, and electric bikes were figments of the imagination.

It is technology and innovation that have changed everything to do with tourism in between. For policymakers and political leaders, this technology shift has opened enormous opportunities to tap an ever-growing internationally-mobile tourist cohort while also serving the domestic market.

The Waterford Greenway followed one developed near Achill Island but surely fast tracking a necklace of them using old railways should be considered?

While local farmers must be treated with sensitivity when planning these, the benefits for a local economy are unambiguous. Any opposing land owner shown what has been done in Waterford would struggle to resist the advantages.

Alongside a set of national greenways, that compliment the Wild Atlantic Way and other regional focus points, the opportunity to accelerate food tourism remains under-exploited.

This is where technology can be even better embraced to drive tourism to activity throughout the agri-food sector. Online information and booking tools, connected to a safe review system, could create a mapping site that identifies, promotes and supports the artisan food and beverage market across Ireland.

Imagine DIY tours that connect food producers, restaurants and accommodation with the provision of e-bikes to enjoy the food ecosystem in an area like west Cork? The e-bike could be replaced by the e-car soon enough at the rate technology is progressing.

Imagine what could be achieved in the next 30 years for Irish tourism based on how fast the experience has changed since 1988.

Will artificial Intelligence and virtual reality allow a couple in Korea to observe a cheese maker at work in Durrus before deciding on a visit?

Will electric cars autonomously drive tourists from the Jameson Distillery to the Dingle Gin production site without concerns about drink driving?

Will more unused holiday homes, throughout the country, be used to provide tourism experiences in the fallow winter period?

All of that is entirely feasible and the tourism industry should be among the most innovative and ambitious globally in the process.

In doing so, Ireland could extend and expand the success which is evidently flowing through our tourism economy in 2018 despite the intense competition provided elsewhere.

Joe Gill is director of corporatebroking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.


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