Dr Vincent Cunnane stressed the impact of the new Thomond Park, which had already helped attract sports tourism worth €60 million last year. He said last year had been a very challenging and particularly negative year across all areas of their operations in tourism and job creation in the Shannon Free Zone.
Dr Cunnane said: “A strong region requires a strong core and Shannon Development’s objective, by establishing our new Limerick division in 2009, is to grow the greater Limerick area.
“We are currently undertaking a major drive to develop sports business and tourism for the city. The new division will focus on key areas including the development of new business opportunities.”
Along with highlighting the attractiveness of Limerick as an investment location, he said the new division which they have set up will work closely with other agencies to develop marketing programmes and events aimed at offering diversity and quality in what the city offers to visitors and investors.
Dr Cunnane said: “In this regard, the successful 2009 launch of the sports ambassadors programme, in partnership with the Shannon Region Conference and Sports Bureau, is expected to yield dividends in terms of greater sports-driven tourism in Limerick this year and beyond.”
He said over the past 10 years tourism entrepreneurs in theregion were assisted with grants worth €54m which resulted in a total investment of over €600m.
Dr Cunnane said: “In 2010 we will continue to build on our network of international tourism contacts in airline vacation companies and with tour operators in all key markets and seek out new business opportunities from national and international tourism markets. We will also target the Irish market with similar deals with trade and consumer partners.”
As sports tourism in Limerick is now worth about €60m, they will intensify their efforts to exploit this sector of the visitor market.
He said: “Already this year we have secured three major events for Limerick and Clare: Skyfest, Sky Ride Etape Hibernia international cycling event and the Great Limerick Run. Combined these events have the potential to generate up to €8m in additional revenue.”
Bunratty Castle is one of the Mid-West’s iconic tourist attractions. Visitor figures for 2009 are not yet completed but the region suffered a drop of 27% over the first nine months of last year.
And the famous banquets there have been hit by the downturn. About 440,000 tourists visited Bunratty Castle, King Johns Castle and other visitor attractions managed by Shannon Development subsidiary, Shannon Heritage last year compared to more than 500,000 the previous year.