A few new signposts to rebrand 'Ancient East'
It's been heralded as the east coast's version of the Wild Atlantic Way - but Ireland's "new" tourist trail is simply an amalgamation of the same old attractions dressed up under a new banner, tourism chiefs have admitted.
Tourism Minister Paschal Donohoe last week unveiled Failte Ireland's latest tourist initiative: a campaign called 'Ireland's Ancient East' aimed at drawing 600,000 foreign visitors to the often by-passed east and south coasts each year. The new scheme aims to mirror the success of Failte Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way, a 2,500-kilometre touring route from Donegal to Cork that highlights the rugged beauty of the west coast.
The route has been hailed as a massive success for struggling businesses since it was launched last year, who have benefited from a huge upsurge in the number of tourists driving, cycling and even walking the meandering trail of existing roadways that were linked up and sign-posted as the 'Wild Atlantic Way'.
Failte Ireland spokesman Alex Connolly admits it was a clever marketing ploy that "took stuff that was there already but was re-packaged".
Similarily, the Ancient East initiative is essentially a rebranding exercise, but Mr Connolly stressed the initiative will, for the first time, provide an "umbrella destination" that brings together hundreds of disparate attractions under a single, marketable banner that will be heavily promoted here and abroad.
The campaign will get into full swing next year following consultation with local tourism providers when hundreds of road signs bearing a distinctive Celtic-inspired logo will be erected along the east coast.
The goal is to encourage overseas visitors to stay at least one night outside of the capital before venturing to popular tourist destinations in the west and elsewhere, which Failte Ireland believes will generate around €950m a year to the local economy.
No budget details have been announced yet but it's understood that Failte Ireland will spend about €600,000 a year to market the campaign to overseas tour operators and create navigation apps and other digital media marketing tools to make it easier for tourists to find their way around.
The 'brand' will be divided into four sub-themes including 'Ancient Ireland' showcasing sites like the prehistoric passage tombs at Newgrange and the Boyne Valley in the northeast, to 'Early Christian Ireland' including ancient monastic sites at Glendalough and Clonmacnoise.
'Medieval Ireland' will feature Kilkenny city's 'Medieval Mile', while 'Anglo Ireland' will showcase architectural gems like Kilruddery House and the Powerscourt estate in Co Wicklow.
The campaign is targeted towards what the industry calls "the culturally curious" who are generally well-educated, well-heeled tourists from North America, the UK, France and Germany who want to "experience 5,000 years of European history in a compact area".
A key component of the campaign will be engaging with locals to share their personal histories of the area.
Irish Tourism Industry Confederation CEO Eamon McKeon welcomed the new initiative. But he doesn't believe the new brand has the same "magical" appeal as the Wild Atlantic Way.
"The Wild Atlantic Way has a much more powerful ring and sound to it," he told the Sunday Independent. "It's a good initiative and any place can get itself on the tourist map if there's a good story. But they are just rebranding the east of Ireland."