JOE GILL: Lighting a fuse for a big bang in rural food tourism

Last week I was at an event we hosted for clients in the Cork area which was hosted in the superb Páirc Uí Chaoimh facilities.

There is great energy in that part of the city now with Albert Quay, Navigation House and the football complex providing a new breath of life in the south eastern end of the urban area.

Hopefully it is not too long before we see the unique waterfront evolving as an office and apartment quarter to compliment other positive momentum.

At the event I had a conversation with Ross Lewis, the proprietor of the Michelin star Chapter One restaurant. He has plenty of ideas about how to move Irish restaurants and the food sector forward but one brilliant idea he had stuck in my mind.

He talks about the ‘premiumisation’ of Irish food by helping high-quality food and beverage producers to combine with top-class restaurants to offer a food tourism product that attracts the growing worldwide set of well-heeled tourists who covet such an offering.

This concept would give food tourists a mixture of site visits to specific high-quality food and beverage producers accompanied by meals in selected restaurants that incorporate that produce in their menus.

Linking these two parts of the agri-food tourism market with areas such as West Cork and the Wild Atlantic Way could build value-added tourism not just in summer but throughout the year.

There must be entrepreneurs and government agencies out there that can take this novel idea and leverage technology to deliver a world-class service.

A sophisticated app that allows visitors to book artisan food tours could contribute to producing a ground-up strategy that promotes small but high-end producers and restaurateurs to a worldwide market.

It is true that our national political agenda in food and beverages tends to focus on the large-scale producers because these operate big companies and co-ops that sustain thousands of jobs.

However, forging a strategy that ignites activity in the small-scale end of the market can achieve a result which complements the big food policies.

These smaller businesses provide passion and high- quality products such as cheeses, meats, seafood, beers, liqueurs and bakery products.

They support innovative and progressive restaurants that can mix authenticity with local produce to serve unbeatable product. Marketed and sold together this package could unleash a fresh wave of tourism that also supports hotels, B&Bs and country houses in rural Ireland.

As usual, I will bang the drum again here about how critical fast broadband access is to this idea. I am sure an advanced app can be invented and a set of producers and restaurateurs can be assembled behind such a project.

The bit that cannot be guaranteed is fast instant access via mobile devices when on top of Sheep’s Head or wandering through narrow roads in Co Clare.

If I was running an SME anywhere in rural Ireland the local TDs would be brassed off with the relentless pressure I would apply on this subject.

Depriving rural Ireland of fast broadband is worse than depriving it of electricity and everyone who has any influence in that area should be agitating on the matter.

Finding ways to support hard working and enthusiastic food and beverage producers and help elevate Ireland’s food quality credentials in the process is an initiative worth pursuing.

Ross Lewis has lit a fuse on an idea that policymakers should use to produce a big bang for rural food tourism.

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


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