Saturday 16 December 2017

Rural Ireland is fighting back to secure future

With the number of British tourists to Ireland on the rise again, it's important to place yourself in the mind of those overseas

Along it rolled slowly through London's most iconic streets viewed by just over 100,000 people. Unlike any other double-decker bus in Europe's largest city it had emblazoned along the side 'Kerry -- heaven on earth'. In a tour of the UK earlier this year which took in the cities of Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester the 'Kerry tourism bus' stole the show at London's St Patrick's Day parade as it attempted to lure prospective tourists to the Kingdom.

One press release at the time dubbed it "the invasion of Britain by the Kingdom of Kerry". Not content just to be sold abroad as part of the larger Irish tourism push the 'cute' Kerrymen thought they'd steal a march on rivals in these difficult times and fair play to them for showing such initiative.

But Kerry isn't the only county to go on a marketing solo run in recent months. Last weekend, at the Copthorne Tara Hotel in leafy Kensington, a 40-strong delegation from Clare met with at least 250 influential figures from the tourism industry and the Irish community in London to discuss ways of bringing both people and trade west of the Shannon.

Leading the Banner bunch was former Irish rugby captain Keith Wood who declared: "It's time for us in Clare to lead the way and take responsibility for creating a county that is spirited, creative and productive -- not just for us, but for the generations of the future."

This was the recent Global Irish forum 'Clare-style' and organisers hope the inspiring get-together will generate €1m and 2,000 tourists for the county over the coming 12 months. The Cliffs of Moher may not have been successful in its bid to be recognised as one of the seven wonders of the world this week but that won't dampen the county's determined business leaders.

Inevitably, such proactive marketing on a county by county scale can result in substantial rewards. With the number of British tourists to Ireland on the rise again, it's important to place yourself in the mind of those overseas, as Kerry and Clare have done.

But Mayor of Clare Cllr Pat Hayes (brother of world-renowned fiddle player Martin) said Clare's future in terms of tourism and trade depended on Shannon Airport remaining in state ownership. He told me: "We'd like to have an element of independence but the airport can't be cut loose from the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) without any assistance from the Government. It's critical for the west of Ireland that Shannon is protected."

A report into the viability of Cork and Shannon airports is due to be completed by the end of this month and Transport Minister Leo Varadkar has stated he'll make a decision on their future before Christmas.

There are positive shoots of hope emerging for counties along the western seaboard though. On Monday Ryanair will unveil a number of new routes from Knock (Ireland West) airport, including one to an undisclosed location in the UK and airline chief Michael O'Leary has predicted that by 2016 the low-cost airline will fly to 24 different destinations from the Mayo airport.

And towns in Ireland are getting in on the act too, especially when it comes to linking up with their communities abroad. This week I received a tweet indirectly from Ballyhaunis Chamber of Commerce to join their impressive website.

Rural Ireland is meeting the economic downturn head-on and such ingenuity and determination could see it through these turbulent times.

Irish Independent

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