Wicklow at the heart of Celtic routes tourism initiative
People from tourism related businesses across county Wicklow travelled to the Riverside Park Hotel in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, for a workshop outlining the potential benefit for the counties Wicklow, Wexford and Waterford of an Ireland Wales Interreg EU initiative called Celtic Routes.
The event was very well attended with representatives from stakeholder businesses and schemes from across the tourism sector in attendance including hotel owners, other accommodation providers, walking trail committee members and representatives of chambers of commerce and mountaineering groups.
The Celtic Routes project is specifically aimed at the three counties along with their counterparts in the Welsh areas of Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.
One of the main aims of the project is to encourage visitors to explore new areas of Wales and Ireland while en route to their planned final destination.
Speaking to this newspaper the project coordinator Oonagh Messette, who organised the workshop, said it's a 'tight collaboration between the three local authorities in the sunny south east of Ireland'.
She also highlighted that because the project is an Ireland-Wales co-funded initiative the local authorities here are working closely with their three Welsh counterparts.
'The project dictates that the routes in Ireland match as closely as possible to the routes devised for Wales and we are in the process of ensuring that [is the case],' said Ms Messette.
During the workshop a brief outline was given from representatives of the three Irish local authorities involved as to what their plans are for the next few years.
The Southern Regional Assembly (SRA) gave an outline of where the Regional Economic Spatial Strategy (RESS) is concentrating with regard to tourism and there were also speakers in attendance who focussed attention on accessibility.
The attendees were given an update on Ireland's Ancient East initiative from representatives of Failte Ireland while the final presentation was based around market research carried out relative to the proposed routes involved.
Ms Messette said the workshop was very productive with a high volume of 'very constructive feedback' received from those attending.
She also outlined some of the main aims of the project with one of the principal ones being converting 'potential' visitors transiting through the three counties into 'staying' visitors.
Another aim is to increase sustainable economic developments by maximising visitor spend, income retention and adding value to the combined tourism offerings within the region.
Ms Messette said a tailored marketing and promotional campaign for visitors and tourism providers will also be developed with the support of the three Irish local authorities.
She said the next phase of the project will be to develop branding and it's hoped the overall project will be able to link in with existing tourism attractions throughout the three counties.
'The branding will be developed between the two countries and we will be developing a website and apps, and compiling appropriate content,' she said.
'We hope to have access to different tourism sites and images because they are already there so it makes sense,' she added.
A tailored marketing campaign around shared identities between the two countries will also be developed in the coming months.
One aspect of the collaborative approach between the Irish and Welsh local stakeholders involved is utilising Ireland's Ancient East 'sacred Ireland' stories with the itinerary in Wales based around 'spiritual places and sacred stones'.
There is also scope to develop further links between the two countries through the common story of saints who travelled from one country to the other and in doing so maximise the appeal of stories and legends relating to the saints and monks connecting the two countries.
According to figures presented to those in attendance at the workshop there were 220,000 domestic visitors to Wicklow in 2016 and they generated €71.6m for the economy while UK visitors to the county amounted to 88,000 - generating tourism revenue of €22m.
Figures were also presented in relation to the number of visitors to Wicklow for the same time period from Europe (114,000), the USA (52,000) and other countries (21,000) and they respectively generated tourism revenue of €35m, €21m and €8m.
Interreg is the European Territorial Co-Operation Programme and is often referred to as the Ireland-Wales Fund.
The Welsh European Funding Office is the managing authority of the programme while Wexford County Council is the lead Irish partner for the three local authorities here.