WITH the storms of last week behind us, and a definite feeling of spring in the air, combined with the further easing of restrictions, many business folk in West Cork will be turning their thoughts to the summer.
And the arrival of summer, we can only hope, will also bring plenty of tourists back to our wonderful corner of Ireland.
While West Cork did benefit from the staycation ethos of Covid guidelines, there are still many hotels, restaurants and hostelries reeling from the on/off nature of the past two years.
And the same can be said for B&Bs, adventure and activity firms and many other tourism-associated companies.
But if we have learned anything from the past two years it is that the type of holiday that West Cork offers has never been in such demand. Wide open spaces, safe unspoilt beaches, incredible food experiences and a wealth of watersport options are all available on demand.
It is a surprise then, that every time a Top 10 of visitor attractions for Ireland is published, West Cork is conspicuous by its absence.
Fáilte Ireland’s list consistently names just one Cork location in the Top 10 – Blarney Castle on the outskirts of the city.
And of the next three most popular Cork attractions – Fota, Doneraile Court and the Crawford Art Gallery – none are in West Cork.
The only West Cork attractions that could even attempt an inclusion in Ireland’s popularity stakes are the Mizen Head visitor centre and Charles Fort in Kinsale. But their numbers don’t even come close to the annual list of Ireland’s favourite attractions, which consistently include the Guinness Storehouse, the Cliffs of Moher and Dublin Zoo.
Between Mizen Head and the Old Head of Kinsale, there is a dearth of big-name heritage sites to attract a vacationer, despite an abundance of what nature has given us – miles of stunning coastline and charming countryside.
But any tourism observer will know that what staycationers want in Ireland is a good and varied selection of indoor attractions, because our weather is not consistent enough to foolproof an entirely outdoor holiday. As well as fun family days out, like a visit to a theme park, wildlife park or adventure centre, Irish families also visit heritage sites in their droves.
The three aforementioned attractions that get the big visitor numbers are usually followed by the Book of Kells (consistently welcoming over 1m visitors annually), St Patrick’s Cathedral, Kylemore Abbey & Gardens, Muckrose House, Powerscourt House and Blarney Castle. It was disappointing, therefore, this week, when the government launched its ‘cross-government strategic policy for heritage’, entitled Heritage Ireland 2030. It set out a framework for the protection, conservation, promotion and management of Ireland’s heritage for the next decade and beyond.
Tourism played a very small role in the 82-page document, with the word mentioned just 19 times. And in very broad terms.
And yet it acknowledged that: ‘Heritage is a key driver of tourism, which is increasingly important to the Irish economy.’
It also noted that while 3.4m visits were made to OPW-managed properties in 2013, ‘this figure rose to 8m visits in 2018, with millions more visits made to other heritage sites.’
There is no doubt that heritage sells.
It seems the link between our rich heritage and the value it can hold for us as an economic driver of tourism has not yet been tapped, and won’t be between now and 2030, either, if the report’s title is anything to go by. And though the document sets out a strategy for the whole country, Cork gets just two mentions – in a photograph of Doneraile Court in North Cork, and accompanying Timoleague National School student Bonnie Hegarty O’Brien’s lovely logo designed for Heritage Ireland.
Last week we exclusively reported the launch of a new chef academy for West Cork – to help promote our magnificent food offering in this region, and also to tap into the expansion in food tourism.
But there is so much more we can do to promote this area. So many opportunities presented by the post-Covid world where the individual is seeking more personal experiences, more connection with nature, landscape – and heritage.
West Cork has a chance to stake its claim in this brave new world now – before pretenders to our tourism throne steal a march.