Businesses in the area suggest international exposure of Skellig Michael, since its use as a spectacular location in The Force Awakens, played a role in making 2016 the area’s best tourist season ever.
A strategy to develop what’s on offer on the Skellig Coast — part of the Wild Atlantic Way, stretching from Kells to Castlecove — is looking to deal with associated challenges. Among these are the limits to the numbers that can visit the island 12km off the coast, and its 6th century monastic settlement.
Tourist businesses are also wary about the short season in which the Skelligs can be reached, and visitors arriving with little other connection to the coast.
Plans for a centre include broadening the focus for potential tourists by telling the story of the monks without having to travel to the island. A Monks Trail Walk in Ballinskelligs may be improved, and Fáilte Ireland has sought proposals on how to modernise the Skellig Experience Visitor Centre on Valentia Island.
Fáilte Ireland said: “Through the current exposure from Star Wars, there is more and more interest in Skellig Michael from international visitors. Given the importance of Skellig Michael to this area and its limitations on daily visitor numbers, which may be further restricted by weather, it is imperative that we provide visitors with alternative experiences.”
As well as the monastic island, a Unesco World Heritage Site, the aim is to promote other aspects of the Skellig Coast, such as its status as Europe’s only gold-tier Dark Skies reserve. The visitor centre could act as a hub for evening and night-time tours, enabling visitors to experience some of the world’s best celestial views on offer to the naked eye, and linking with associated businesses.
Another project to be developed will centre on Daniel O’Connell, linking his birthplace in Caherciveen, his home in Derrynane, and instilling in tourists how his native area inspired his 19th century political work for Catholics’ right to vote in parliamentary elections.
The opportunity to hear and speak Irish, and to listen to or learn Irish music, in the local Gaeltacht will also be pushed.
Other projects to be pursued include a food touring route map to showcase local and regional fare, and creating an interactive experience of the transatlantic cable story. The 150th anniversary of the first transatlantic cable communication in 1866 was marked last year at the Valentia Island cable station, for which an application for World Heritage status is being considered by Unesco.
Through the telling of the stories associated with these and other attractions, it is hoped to develop the Skellig Coast as a product that can be strongly marketed. Work has begun on getting local businesses working together, and a Skellig Coast Tourism Network launched in January will be at the centre of that initiative.
As an umbrella body for tourism, community, business, and development groups, it will see communities that previously worked independently uniting to create a broader tourism destination.
The overall plan has been hailed by Kerry County Council as a chance to increase profits for hotels, guesthouses, and other tourism ventures.