One million tourists by 2023 to boost economy
A unique, wow visitor experience - coupled with several engaging cluster experiences - is needed to boost visitor numbers to the county.
This is the view of Wexford County Council's executive who believe the future of tourism within the county lies in cluster experiences and the development of an iconic attraction which can bring hundreds of thousands of visitors into the county from abroad and from within the 32 counties.
The Wexford Tourism Strategy was debated at length. Its aims include boosting tourist numbers by almost 20 per cent over the coming five years. During a discussion on the strategy one councillor stressed the need for the county to be included in the Wild Atlantic Way. The draft plan was adjourned to the next meeting of Wexford county council as councillors were only provided with a copy of it at the last minute.
Tom Banville of Wexford Enterprise gave the presentation, along with tourism officer Billy Byrne.
Mr Banville said around 5,500 people are employed within the county's tourism sector.
'The beauty of tourism is that it reaches into all areas of the county. Domestic tourism dominates. Overseas revenue has changed. Wexford receives twice as much revenue from domestic versus international visitors,' he said. 'We are heavily reliant on domestic tourists so we're looking at growing our international visitor numbers' base and revenue. The vision is to become one of Ireland's most compelling destinations. There are a significant number of job opportunities here.'
The plan's stated aim is to grow income from visitor from €221m in 2018 to €250m by 2023, an 18.7 per cent increase. Mr Banville said Brexit could affect tourism figures, before adding that the council is targeting one million visitors to the county in 2023, compared to 927,000 last year.
He said 1,000 more jobs can be created within the sector over the coming four years.
To accommodate the increase in visitors an estimated 4,684 beds are needed in new hotels, B&Bs and other accommodation providers.
Fáilte Ireland is marketing Co Wexford in the context of Ireland's Ancient East to high spending foreign tourists. 'The campaign is looking at broadening the seasonal and regional relevance, working with our colleagues in Waterford, Kilkenny and Carlow, working together for a bigger and better offering. It's about collaboration and distinguishing Wexford as the preferred destination for international visitors.'
One of the main planks of the strategy is developing cluster experiences including, for example, Hook Head Peninsula, taking in the lighthouse, Loftus Hall and other local attractions. Wexford town will be marketed as a vibrant maritime town. There is a coastal beaches and Greenway cluster experience, a castle experience and a fifth original unique experience, as yet to be developed. 'We will develop this over the next year or two. We need a destination product, like a theme park, which has the potential to have international appeal.'
The report states that among the new experiences to be developed could be The Artemis Fowl experience or an Eileen Gray tour in Enniscorthy. The strategy states that Carrigfoyle Lake activity park could attract 167,500 people per year. Road and trail works are due to begin on this project in the next three months and according to the strategy it will offer visitors world class trail network over 10.2 hectares, lake and cliff amenities for zip-lining, canoeing and climbing walls. Phase 1 is at design stage and phase 2 will look at utilising nearby beaches for sea kayaking, coasteering, water pursuits and open water swimming.
The total value of tourism to the county between 2012 and 2017 is estimated at €970m. 'Our biggest attraction is run by a private business, Wells House. It attracts between 120,000 and 130,000 people but it's predominantly from the domestic market.'
Mr Banville said capacity building through collaborations between the public and private sectors is vital. Cllr Barbara Anne Murphy said the strategy has been a long time in the making. She criticised the lack of detail in the strategy regarding food tourism trails, saying it is an area of huge growth worldwide.
She said the north of the county has been largely ignored in the plan. 'There is a huge proposal for Enniscorthy Castle and that isn't included. I hope the Norman Way will be pushed forward. Our festivals are county-wide and even if they only bring domestic tourists they are spending the same as international visitors as they stay longer..'
She said the north of the county has miles of beaches and wonderful mountains. 'People don't seem to notice we have them at all. There are walks, gardens, food trails. None of them are mentioned. As a tourist area the north of the county doesn't exist (in the report).'
Cllr Malcolm Byrne said the strategy is important in terms of how it highlights the potential tourism markets for the county. He said two of the county's blue flag beaches aren't mentioned in it, while there is very little mention of retail tourism, which is an important part of the economy of Gorey. He said conference tourism is also very important to the town, particularly in Wexford town.
Cllr Byrne said there is an amusement park planned for the north of the county, adding that the council must ensure that the County Development Plan is amenable towards such a development and that planning permission can be built into the plan, which is being drawn up. Cllr Byrne also sought for promotional material highlighting the county's tourist offerings to be printed in foreign languages and to be made available on ferries arriving into Rosslare Europort.
Cllr Michael Whelan welcomed the coastline experience strand of the strategy. 'I think it's one area that we're seriously lacking in, marine tourism. We have no infrastructure on the Hook Peninsula; no accommodation for leisure boats, no marine based tourism.'
Mr Banville said food does form part of the strategy, adding that all key tourism plans are underpinned by having high quality food available at award winning restaurants and pubs across the county. He said Wexford Festival Opera is the only festival which attracts a high volume of international visitors to the county each year.
Cllr Murphy questioned if the strategy was exclusively aimed at growing the international market and was told by Mr Banville that that market is where the growth can be found.
'There has been no increase in international revenue or visitor numbers in five years.'
Director of Services for Economic Development Tony Larkin said: 'We are a big county with a very varied tourism offering and it's not possible to list every festival. At its heart Wexford is full during the summer. We do have a strategy to get new hotels here. I am dealing with developers who are putting forward plans for four hotels. International visitors spend an awful lot more money than domestic visitors. It isn't (all) about growing visitor numbers, it's about getting more euros out of them. The difference is about four times more of a spend per person than domestic tourists who are here no a different type of holiday experience.'
Mr Larkin said Co Wexford is 'way behind' Kerry or Galway in terms of attracting visitors. 'We are not even on the same page as them in terms of international visitor numbers. You can't possibly do a plan to comprehensively cover the county as it would run to 1,000 pages long.'
He said the strategy can be reviewed after a few years, calling for the members to get behind its stated aim to target international visitors.
Mr Banville said: 'It's one of the challenges we have as Wexford has lots of great stuff but doesn't have the iconic product that resonates internationally so it's about clustering things together so people can have an experience in the county. The consultants who have written this strategy have identified these kinds of areas.'
Cllr Lisa McDonald said Wexford needs to be included in the Wild Atlantic Way tourism promotion, considering the success it has been along the west coast.
'The Atlantic starts just short of Carnsore Point. The country's most identifiable (tourism) product is the Wild Atlantic Way which stretches from the Cliffs of Moher to Carne. I think it's a missed opportunity if we don't include it.'
She said surfing in Sligo is the second most popular activity tourists enjoy, suggesting that Wexford could become a major surfing and kayaking destination. Cllr McDonald said Rosslare is an ideal venue for international sporting events like the Strongman competition, which is being held in Youghal this June.
It was ultimately agreed to discuss a final tourism strategy for the county at the April meeting.