Fáilte Ireland's €15.5m for 'undiscovered' towns - where could claim the cash?
A major new investment aims to boost towns with "untapped tourism potential". But who will benefit?
Could your town keep tourists entertained for 11 hours a day?
Does it have decent food options for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Can it boast at least one visitor attraction "of scale"?
If so, your local authority can now apply for a piece of a new €15.5 million pie designed to grow Ireland's next generation of tourism hubs.
What's the story?
Fáilte Ireland's major new investment, announced today, is an effort to drive the regional spread of visitors - and will be split among up to 62 towns that can demonstrate their "untapped potential" for tourism.
The aim is to provide "a springboard to develop towns with untapped potential from transit zones to destinations where visitors want to stay longer and experience local culture,” says Paul Kelly, CEO of Fáilte Ireland.
Visitors to Ireland are drawn by "attractive towns" adds Jenny De Saulles, Head of Ireland's Ancient East. "They're looking for a sense of place."
Applications are open April through September, and local authorities can bid for between €250,000 and €500,000 to develop up to two towns in their area.
The funding can then be used for capital works ranging from the enhancement of public spaces, streetscapes and markets to public art, signage, interpretation and lighting initiatives.
What towns can apply?
Not every town will be eligible for funding, with Fáilte Ireland outlining several minimum criteria before applications will be considered.
1. A visitor attraction of scale
Nominated towns must have at least one visitor attraction of a scale significant enough to "drive tourism demand".
2. The ability to engage visitors for 11 hours a day
Funding will be awarded to towns that already have a range of things for visitors to so and see over a two-day period (see diagram).
"A town that hopes to attract overnight visitors needs to offer a variety of attractions, activities and entertainment options which can keep tourists engaged for more than 11 hours a day, including three hours in the evening," it says.
"That's not just about a restaurant and a pub," Jenny De Saulles adds. "Simple things like arts and culture centres or attractions that open in the evening, public spaces with some kind of entertainment or guided evening tours can really energise a place."
3. At least 300 beds for visitors
Successful applicants must be able to attract visitors to stay overnight, and have an accommodation stock of at least 300 beds for a seasonal destination town, or 1,000 beds for a year-round destination.
Beds could come from hotels, B&Bs, guesthouses or rentals, Fáílte Ireland says, though the potential to grow bedstock will also be considered.
4. Decent food and drink
Like the rest of us, visitors need to eat. Fáilte Ireland will favour towns that already have a range of food offerings to meet visitor needs, "including a range of options for light snacks, tea/coffee, lunch and dinner."
Five towns that could win the cash...
Fáilte Ireland has not mentioned any towns it thinks should apply, but below are five contenders we think could make strong applicants. All are big enough to meet the minimum criteria, but need to raise their game before they can compete with the Westports, Kinsales and Killarneys of this world.
Letterkenny, Co Donegal
Donegal's biggest town is perfectly positioned as a gateway or base for visitors looking to explore the northwest and its peninsulas. It has a solid cluster of accommodation, food and drink, and its Cathedral Quarter recently attracted €200,000 in funding from the Heritage Council... another tourism boost would be timely.
Mullingar, Co Westmeath
Surrounded by lakes, Belvedere House, the Hill of Uisneach, the Old Rail Trail and within easy access of Dublin, Mullingar has major potenital as a midlands hub - and could learn a lot from the evolution of nearby Athlone. With a variety of places to stay, see and eat, targeting the new scheme could be a great way to further galvanise its hospitality and business leaders behind a common goal.
New Ross, Co Wexford
Attractions like the Dunbrody Famine Ship and nearby JFK Homestead and Arboretum tempt visitors to the area, but New Ross is another town that could work wonders with an injection of Fáilte Ireland cash. Increasing dwell time is key to developing rural tourism, and would benefit the town's local economy too.
Nenagh, Co Tipperary
It's got a surprising food offering, an under-rated castle, works as a cycling hub and is a short drive from Lough Derg and Limerick. But how to attract more visitors off the M7? A couple of hundred thousand euro could certainly help...
Ballina, Co Mayo
Ballina's public realm plan is cited by Fáilte Ireland as a great example of integrating tourist and local needs, and the town is well-served by hotels like the Ice House, Mount Falcon and Belleek Castle. North Mayo sits on the Wild Atlantic Way, but doesn't get a fraction of the tourist traffic of counties to the south.
Why is Fáilte Ireland doing this?
This is the first scheme of its kind, and it marks a "step-change" in how Fáilte Ireland is working with local authorities to drive regional tourism.
It fits under a broader aim to spread tourism across a wider geography and longer season. "Attractive towns" are being targeted, because they are deemed a key motivator for tourists in choosing a holiday destination.
"There is an undiscovered Ireland, both in places already well established and in those off the beaten track," as Paul Kelly has put it.
"This scheme is a great opportunity for towns which aren’t fully active in the tourism industry to look at how their local economy can benefit from increased tourism activity as well as the physical development the scheme will bring," said Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Brendan Griffin T.D.
What happens next?
Applications for the scheme close in September, with a minimum of 31 and a maximum of 62 towns to be awarded funding.
Fáilte Ireland’s regional teams will work with local authorities to identify towns with the potential to grow their tourism economy. They will then assess the development need using the Destination Town Framework unveiled today, as well as the town’s potential to drive a greater regional and seasonal spread of tourism.
Read more:Irish Tourism in Numbers: From our most popular attraction to our least visited county... and more