BY SIOBHÁN CRONIN
DESPITE the huge amount of publicity given to the Wild Atlantic Way, which has been a great success locally, its impact internationally remains quite modest, according to Fáilte Ireland’s annual tourism review.
Chairman Michael Cawley said this week that if awareness levels across key markets are increased appreciably over the next few years, then the true potential of the Wild Atlantic Way as a driver of tourism growth will be realised.
‘We know, for example, that the Wild Atlantic Way is a fantastic tourism proposition, but has low international recognition at this point. When we survey potential overseas visitors, most are unaware of the new initiative. However, when they are told about what is on offer, the response is phenomenal. Clearly, as we build awareness, the Wild Atlantic Way is going to make a significant and transformative impact in the West.’
‘Assuming no major external shocks, I believe Irish tourism is well-placed to grow in 2016, possibly by as much as 6%,’ he said. ‘The access capacity to the country is set to increase again this season, economic conditions in key markets are generally positive and our brand offering is compelling and improving.’
A key objective for the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East brands is to secure increased visitor dwell times and expenditure in those areas which are currently underperforming, he said. The relatively short tourist season in some locations (as little as six weeks) poses particular challenges for sustaining businesses and employment levels in these destinations. Fáilte Ireland will be introducing a number of initiatives through the 2016 season to encourage the sector to stay open for a period beyond their normal season to encourage both domestic and international visitors to holiday off-peak.
He added that we are witnessing a shortage of staff in some key areas, most notably culinary. ‘Improving chef retention rates within certain sectors is a key part of the overall response. Similarly the speedy introduction of a new accredited apprenticeship programme for chefs by Solas with the hospitality industry is critical. Failte Ireland has recently begun funding the training of 150 Commis Chefs as a short-term measure to alleviate the current skills shortage and will continue with similar initiatives if required,’ Mr Cawley added.
‘Despite its undoubted early success with local industry, the Wild Atlantic Way is an evolving brand with many years of sustained investment lying ahead,’ he continued. During 2015, Fáilte Ireland began a programme of branded interpretation works – including information and photo points – at each of the 188 Discovery Points along the route, including the offshore islands. These works are intended to help tell the stories of each place and will encourage visitors to increase their dwell time in each locality. Additional capital investments are planned, he said.
‘From a regional perspective, Fáilte Ireland will be focusing on initiatives to encourage more visitors to venture beyond the traditional ‘honeypots’,’ said the tourism chief.
‘In total, Fáilte Ireland will commit €19m to developing the Wild Atlantic Way in 2016 and, as overseas awareness rises, believes that the already popular initiative’s full potential has yet to be seen. The focus in 2016 will be to work with Tourism Ireland to grow international awareness and develop more compelling and motivating Wild Atlantic Way visitor experiences.’