BY JACKIE KEOGH
WEST Cork-based Atlantic Sea Kayaking was named as outright winner of the Irish Responsible Tourism Awards in Dublin recently, and now will go on to represent the best of Irish tourism in the World Responsible Tourism Awards 2015.
It is a fantastic accolade for a business that also won a Gold Medal in the Best Adventure Activity Provider in the Responsible Tourism category.
Jim and Maria Kennedy, who established the business in the mid-1990s, offer a range of kayaking trips and courses in West Cork, and now provide walking tours too, both of which have a concern for the environment at the core of their activities.
‘We are very proud to be picked to represent Ireland,’ Jim told The Southern Star. ‘It is great to see a responsible approach being recognised as something that makes tourism better. It is certainly something that helps us give our kayakers and walkers a fantastic experience.
‘We are fortunate to enjoy and work in one of the most beautiful marine environments in the world. But we know that for others to enjoy this special place, we have to respect and protect it. Every day we are helping our visitors to recognise not just the beauty but the fragility of the marine environments they are exploring.’
West Cork’s strengths in providing responsible tourism were also recognised with three silver awards, which went to the Sheep’s Head Way, Whale Watch West Cork, and the Mizen Head Experience.
The Sheep’s Head Way finished behind Clare’s Loop Head peninsula to take silver in the ‘Best Responsible Destination’ category. The award recognised the work the local community has done to build on the sustainable approach that was employed in the development of the Sheep’s Head peninsula’s renowned walking route in the late 1990s.
The local tourism co-op – the Sheep’s Head & Bantry Tourism Co-operative – has worked hard over the last two years to build links between businesses and promote experiences like stone-carving weekends, Wild Atlantic Way cruises, and guided walks that give visitors a real insight into life on the Sheep’s Head Way.
Nic Slocum of Whale Watch West Cork, who runs whale- and dolphin-watching tours from Baltimore, was also honoured at the awards for Best Tour Operator for Responsible Tourism. As well as helping tourists to better understand marine mammals, Nic is committed to helping other businesses treat the environment respectfully, and has established a comprehensive code of conduct for whale watching that has received many accolades.
The Mizen Head Visitor Experience, which received silver for Best Cultural Heritage Attraction, has been drawing visitors to West Cork with its visitor centre, which explores the geology of the Mizen. Its keepers’ quarters give an insight into lighthouse life, and the centre’s walk to the signal station over the arched bridge showcases the Mizen’s stunning scenery with the possibility of seeing seals, kittiwakes, gannets and choughs en route.
‘The businesses and destinations being rewarded here have shown a real and long-term commitment to delivering responsible tourism,’ said Siobhán Burke, who is the marketing co-ordinator for the Sheep’s Head and Bantry Tourism Co-op and was invited to address the conference’s international delegates with a talk on ‘Small Business and the Big Picture’.
‘Tourists don’t necessarily want to know every last detail of how we minimise waste and save energy, but they do care passionately about visiting places that are properly protected and cherished by the people who live there,’ she said. ‘They want powerful and pure experiences that give them genuine insights into places and communities.
‘It is fantastic that we were all able to take to the stage in Dublin and show that West Cork can provide those experiences for everyone who visits us here. When we work together and share the best of what we love about where we live,’ Siobhán added, ‘we are creating the kind of tourism that is rewarding for everyone involved.’