Savage Beauty: New tourism strategy shoots for 'true essence' of Aran Islands and Connemara
Slow Travel & Sustainability
A new Visitor Development Plan wants to encourage visitors to stay longer and spend more in Connemara and the Aran Islands.
Wildly romantic, rugged, diverse and integral to the Wild Atlantic Way, the iconic locations inspire breathtaking adventures and Instagrams, but like other rural regions, suffer from a drop in tourist footfall outside of peak seasons.
Fáilte Ireland's new Visitor Experience Development Plan, launched this week, aims to address that by having visitors "engage with the true essence and story of the area, without compromising the environment or culture," it says.
The Plan will draw on the region's rich folklore and what Oscar Wilde termed its "savage beauty" with 10 "Catalyst Projects", it outlines.
These include feasibility studies on a "Leenane-Killary Fjord Adventure Hub" and "Killary Famine Trail", new coastal and inland walking trails, and the completion of the Connemara Greenway, among other possible developments.
Tourism has been growing in the area, Fáílte Ireland says, but challenges remain - including a lack of awareness, the perception of a "north-south divide" in Connemara tourism, and limited pier, harbour and welcome facilities on the Aran Islands.
The Plan is described as a "starting point" for stakeholders to get the ball rolling on future opportunities, and to develop experiences and themes that not only attract visitors but have them "emotionally connect" to the destination.
It comes as a global trend towards experiential tourism gathers pace, with everyone from tourist boards to Airbnb (with its local 'Experiences') and hotel chains zeroing in on "authentic" tourism experiences that enrich travellers' lives.
The Plan follows a period of consultation with regional stakeholders, Fáilte Ireland says, and collaboration with Galway County Council, the National Parks & Wildlife Service and Forum Connemara among others.
It includes "tangible actions and a process for local businesses to become involved," says Miriam Kennedy, Fáilte Ireland's Head of the Wild Atlantic Way.
Of course, developing these wild western frontiers sensitively and responsibly will be a key challenge if visitor numbers do grow.
Growing conflict between sense of place and mass tourism on Inis Oírr and Inis Mór has "the potential to undermine its sustainability," the Plan warns.
A PDF of the full Plan is available online here.