'Visit Wexford' getting the welcome message across
Maria Pepper writes on the background to Co Wexford becoming the most popular destination in the South East
WEXFORD'S efforts to position itself as a major tourist destination have been boosted by the latest figures, which show the county welcomed the highest number of overseas visitors in the south-eastern region in 2012.
Activity in the domestic market is also looking more positive at a time when other areas are experiencing a downturn.
For instance, in the first six months of 2013, Wexford hosted over 6,000 conference delegates.
Lacking headline sites such as the Cliffs of Moher or the Ring of Kerry, the county has long been the cinderella of the Irish tourism industry. But now it looks like Wexford may finally be getting a chance to shine.
The reason for this is not accident or co-incidence but a concerted marketing effort by a group called Visit Wexford working in association with Wexford County Council, Failte Ireland and tourism industry operators.
Visit Wexford was established in 2010 to re-brand the county and promote its attractiveness to Irish and international holidaymakers.
It was a case of making the most of what the county has to offer and spreading the message.
When a fresh look was taken at the model county, it was clear that it has many overlooked selling points with untapped potential.
Wexford may not have Bunratty Castle or the Blarney Stone but it has history and heritage in spades, an international opera festival, links with John F. Kennedy, amazing beaches, unique flora and fauna, a reputation for fine food, a rich maritime tradition and a welcome to beat the band.
Above all, it is a hotbed of culture and as the marketing plan has evolved, this has become its best feature.
A Visit Wexford website and logo were launched, signalling a new beginning and a new era of confidence in what we uniquely have to offer.
In a positive case of blowing our own trumpets, a sustained marketing strategy has garnered national media publicity for Wexford events and festivals.
In a major promotional coup, the JFK50 celebrations in New Ross received television coverage throughout the USA.
Holiday programmes on Irish and British television have shone a spotlight on various attractions in the county including Kelly's Resort Hotel in Rosslare, Johnstown Castle and Pirate's Cove in Courtown.
No longer is it a question of something happening, it must be seen to be happening, with accompanying photographs in newspapers and brochures.
When the 2012 tourism figures were released recently by Failite Ireland, there was a deserved sense of achievement among the ranks of Visit Wexford members.
The cause for celebration was that for the first time in 10 years, Wexford is leading the southeast region with the highest number of overseas visitors.
A total of 229,000 overseas visitors came here during 2012, representing €65 million in revenue.
This was an increase of 50% on the overseas tourism revenue in 2011 which amounted to €40 million.
Even better news is that the figure is growing and even better results are expected for 2013, the year of The Gathering.
This is happening at a time when overseas tourism traffic into other areas is declining.
Visit Wexford chairman Peter Wilson, who is the manager of Whites Hotel, is thrilled about the new trend.
'We put a huge amount of time and effort into building, growing and communicating the tourism products of Wexford and we are all delighted to see it reaping rewards,' he said.
The Council's Tourism Development Officer Carolyine Godkin said everyone hopes the figures for 2013 will be even better.
'I think we have really managed to up the ante. We have reversed the trend that is becoming evident in other areas.'
'We are selling Wexford as a destination, as an overall package. It's not one thing but lots of different things.'
'Our sites may not be as famous as the Cliffs of Moher but we have amazing heritage.'
'Wxford has the largest heritage trail in the country. We have everything from Tacumshin Windmill to the Heritage Park and we also have the emigrant trail.'
'Where Wexford does really well is in the culture area. That has become a big selling point and Wexford Opera Festival is a key factor.'
'We also have Art in the Open now. Over 200 visitors came for that festival this year, mostly from overseas,' said Carolyne.
As more people search for an authentic experience away from the well-worn tourism sites, perhaps Wexford's time has come.
A fortnight ago, Visit Wexford hosted 18 tour operators who specialise in bringing people from all over the world to Ireland on 'tailored' holidays to suit special interests.
One of the attractions on their agenda was the Opera Festival.
'We already have a couple of sales coming through from their visit to Wexford,' said Carolyne.
The Visit Wexford website which receives 13,000 views a month, is currently being upgraded.
Carolyne enouraged tourism operators and festival organisers to participate in the site which is now Wexford's shop window to the world.