THE new Wild Atlantic Way driving route is hoping to compete internationally with South Africa's Garden Route and America's Pacific Highway.
Harley-Davidson motorcyclists, German tour groups and BBC's 'Top Gear' programme are among the target market which Ireland's tourist industry wants to attract to what it claims is the "world's longest defined coastal driving route".
The 2,500km route which stretches from Malin Head in Co Donegal to the Old Head of Kinsale in Co Cork was officially launched yesterday as part of a bid to revitalise tourism on the west coast.
The Government is spending €10m this year on signposting and upgrading attractions along the route in order to make it easy for tourists to navigate and enjoy the route.
Already 15 major tour operators in Germany, America, Britain and France have begun marketing holidays to the Wild Atlantic Way and will bring tens of thousands of visitors in its first year, said Failte Ireland's Fiona Monaghan.
It will also pitch the driving route to popular BBC motoring programme 'Top Gear' in a bid to generate more publicity, she said.
Major tourist routes such as the Great Ocean Road in Australia, the Garden Route in South Africa and Highway 101 and the Pacific Coast Highway in the United States had been examined for insights into what was needed to attract visitors, she said.
The Wild Atlantic Way would appeal to visitors who wanted to drive the whole route on a Harley-Davidson or luxury car, as well as to those who preferred to do smaller chunks focusing on different aspects ranging from cultural and heritage attractions to birdwatching and angling, adventure sports or festivals.
It stretches all along the west coast from Donegal to Cork taking in over 500 visitor attractions, as well as 53 Blue Flag beaches, 120 golf courses and 50 loop walks.
Junior Tourism Minister Michael Ring said: "It has massive potential to bring more visitors and jobs to rural communities right along the western seaboard.
The Government has allocated €8m for the project this year, with Failte Ireland spending another €2m on some 159 'discovery point' sites highlighting key attractions such as the Cliffs of Moher in Clare and Dursey Island in Cork.
Some 3,850 new signs will be erected along the route by the end of this month in time for the start of the tourist season, while a new app is also being developed to assist visitors.
One of Germany's largest tour operators Dertour said it was featuring the route on the cover of its current brochure because it would appeal to customers.
"Germans love the coastline and they are always looking for outstanding scenery which they wouldn't find at home," said Dino Steinkamp of Dertour.
Hotelier Michael Vaughan from Lahinch in Co Clare said that the west of Ireland had lost one million bed nights over the last decade, and needed a "unifying theme" like that provided by the Wild Atlantic Way to attract more visitors.
"It's going to extend our season and means we will have the playground of Europe on the west coast," he said.