Plans for new scenic route along Atlantic coast to boost tourism figures
PLANS are being drawn up for an "end-of-the-world" drive along Ireland's Atlantic coastline to rival the most scenic road trips around the globe.
Tourism chiefs are working on a link-up of existing routes from Donegal's dizzying Slieve League sea cliffs to the wilds of west Cork to draw in thrill-seeking motorists from overseas.
The trail will be pitched to continental Europeans and US visitors in particular as the "authentic Irish experience" on a self-drive journey to match famous drives such as California's Pacific Coast Highway or Australia's Great Ocean Road.
Alex Connolly, head of communications at Failte Ireland, said the "Wild Atlantic Drive" could be promoted as a two-week holiday which can also be completed in smaller stages for those with less time.
"We'll be pitching this at people who want to come over and have an authentic experience and enjoy not only Irish landscapes, but also the company of Irish people," he said.
"It will be for people who are looking for that rugged, authentic Irish experience, the Ireland that at one stage - before the discovery of America - was considered the end of the world, but still has that remoteness and beauty about it."
The proposal is one of the flagship projects for the state tourism agency in the year ahead.
There is no defined route yet drawn up but it is already envisaged it will join up the most dramatic by-ways and highways from Donegal through remotest Mayo and Achill Island, into Connemara and over the Burren and on to west Cork.
The themed trail will also act as a "shopping aisle", with points and markers along the designated way to tempt holidaymakers off the main route to "pleasant diversions" including historical, cultural and tourism attractions.
"People who come from overseas to Ireland don't necessarily see the counties, and they're looking for the authentic Ireland," said Mr Connolly.
"We have as much to offer as other countries when it comes to that kind of thing.
"We now have to work with local communities and local authorities along that whole western seaboard area to try and bring this alive - there is a lot of work to do."
The initiative is seen as a key way to remarket and rebrand Ireland to overseas tourists without spending too much money during a time of national austerity.
Another major focus in the coming year is Project Britain - a plan to dramatically increase visitors from across the Irish Sea by promoting Ireland as a holiday "at home".
Research by the tourism agency suggests Britons do not think of a visit to their nearest neighbours as an overseas trip.
Mr Connolly said it was planned to take advantage of this psyche by advertising Ireland as a 'staycation' at a time when the economic decline there is pushing up the numbers taking breaks at home.
"Our research is telling us that a lot of British people, when they consider their own home market, they think of places like Scotland, Wales and Cornwall, but they also kind of consider here as home," he said.
"We think there's a trick there we should play.
"There may be scope for us to start pitching to possible British visitors who are looking for a home break to come to Ireland."
With a 4pc increase in visitors from Britain last year after years of steep decline, tourism bosses are expecting at least the same increase this year, which they plan to build upon with Project Britain.
They are mainly targeting the more affluent parts of the UK - London and the south east.
"Given that Britain represents 45pc of our overseas visitors, we really have to crack it," said Mr Connolly.
There will also be a focus on Germans, who are starting to come back to Ireland in greater numbers as their economy recovers and they see more value for money in Ireland now than in recent years.