Destination marketing: Co Donegal vs Co Clare

I’m delighted to host this guest post from my friend and fellow marketer, Leanne Doohan.  Fire away, Leanne.

Leanne at the Cliffs of Moher, County Clare

Last week I had the experience of being a tourist in my own country as my husband and I took a short trip to Co. Clare.

While we enjoyed every minute of it, I couldn’t help compare it to the natural beauty of my home county, Donegal.

In particular, I was intrigued by the volume of visitors at the Cliffs of Moher who were happy to pay €6 each to enter the Visitors’ Centre and see the cliffs.

Slieve League in South Donegal boasts the highest sea cliffs in Europe and access is free.

However, in 2010 The Cliffs of Moher was the fourth highest fee-paying visitor attraction in Ireland, while Slieve League doesn’t even appear in the top 10 free visitor attractions. (Stats: Failte Ireland)

This made me wonder why Slieve League isn’t as popular as The Cliffs of Moher. 

I think the answer to this question lies with the marketing of both attractions.

Signposted only locally in South Donegal, there are people in the rest of the county who aren’t even aware of Slieve League.

Not surprisingly for a cliff face, it is in a remote area – the narrow, windy roads and lack of road signage make it quite difficult to find.

However, the car park and walkway when you get there are platforms for a truly spectacular view.

This is a tourist attraction that can be marketed as a wonderful experience, here I am enjoying the area on a beautiful sunny day.

Leanne at Slieve League, Co Donegal

The revenue potential for the surrounding tourism businesses is an opportunity that needs to be maximised, now more than ever.

The non-commercialism and natural state is part of the appeal of Slieve League so it is important that marketing stimulates demand but not to the detriment of what has to be preserved for future generations.

More so than with commercial products and services, marketing and visitor management need to be interwoven at a natural tourist attraction.

As well as making the site meaningful to visitors, interpretation, (in this case, information boards), is a particularly effective visitor management tool. It can reduce undesirable behaviour such as littering and accessing delicate areas.

Last year, it was announced that funding of almost €2 million has been allocated to an environmental management project by Donegal County Council.

Apparently, the money will be used to improve visitors’ experiences at Slieve League and to put in place measures to preserve the iconic natural attraction.

In my opinion, Slieve League is quite well-equipped in terms of visitor management, although improvements to the walkway wouldn’t go amiss.

(If I’ve inspired you to visit, do take care – the safety measures are by no means as sophisticated as at the Cliffs of Moher!)

I welcome the fact that investment is available for preservation and visitor management but I hope that it is equally spent on improving efforts to attract tourists, for the preservation and sustainability of our tourism industry.

Better road signage from all the main Donegal (and Leitrim) towns would be hugely beneficial.

I hope we never see money wasted on a visitors’ centre there as I can’t imagine what can’t be displayed on an information board.

I hope all involved parties keep Slieve League natural and maintain the momentum with its mutually supportive management and marketing. 

And I hope more visitors find their way there too.  Donegal deserves it.

8 thoughts on “Destination marketing: Co Donegal vs Co Clare”

  1. Cliffs of Moher must have changed some since the last time I was there Leanne. That day there were loads of Italian boys daring each other to go further & further out for photographs…

    We were going to hang around to see if there were any unclaimed cars left in the car park at closing time.

  2. Croaghaun on Achill island are in fact the highest sea cliffs in Ireland and the sixth in Europe. the Cliffs of Moher come in a lowly 17th. The fact that a place even fewer people have heard of is really the Daddy of all sea cliffs in Ireland might be the answer to why the Cliffs are mopping up i.e.they are tucked well away from the familiar tourism path. The Cliffs serve as a very nice wrap up set piece just before hitting Galway on the well worn and somewhat lazy tourist trail of Ireland, or should I say Munster. In terms of location location location, the cliffs are just where they need to be for ticking the box of sights to see in Oirland.

    Croaghaun and Slieve League are well out of the way. It takes effort to get to them and the publicity machine just isn’t behind them. in a way, I’m sort of glad it is left to the discerning and the curious who venture that bit further. I want a tourist who looks beyond the obvious and is that little bit more original in enjoying their time off. As for publicity, I don’t want endless annoying ads for Slieve League a la 7UP to sign a petition to be one of the sev-en new wonders of the world (geddit?) – it is nearly as bad a Guinness with the gawdawful Arthur’s Day swizz! Or Michael Flatley doing a cliff edge show for that matter.

    There’s a lot that should be done to improve Donegal’s tourism infrastructure that I can think of and have spelt out in recent months in talks and presentations. Slieve League needs to come as a package, just as the cliffs are part of a route. *shameless plug alert* My navigatour service shows where all the places to go in Donegal are located and anyone coming up here needs to be made aware of the fact that the cliffs are good, but there’s more to them on offer – they just happen to be a special part of an outstanding area. Donegal certainly does deserve more visitors and it will happen over time with new media, with word of mouth and with people being that little bit more determined to see some truly big country by taking the road less travelled.

    Here’s my own take on seeing Slieve League from Donegal Bay: –

  3. I’ve been to the Cliffs of Moher and found that the commercialism was very much a non-attraction!! Please leave Sliave Liag alone!! It’s a wonderful place as it is! It does not need the kind of development seen at the Cliffs of Moher where everyone seems to have their hand out for their share of the tourist pot!!!

  4. Glad to see this great blog from Leanne is attracting the comments.

    Hailing from the Lake District, NW England, I know first hand that there is a fine balance between preserving the beauty of a place for future generations and using natural assets for the good of the local economy. No one wants to live in a museum so planning laws and practices must allow for the commercialisation and preservation of the landscape to be mutually benefical.

    Tourism has a fundamental part to play in this, of course.

    Your point about the Cliffs of Moher being better promoted and therefore attracting more visitors than Slieve League makes me wonder how the powers that be decide which areas get the ad spend.

    It’s not for nothing that some people feel Donegal is the forgotten county. (Which is why some promote Donegal themselves).

    Thanks Leanne,

  5. Thanks to everyone who has left comments. I agree completely that the cliffs are part of a ‘package’ in Donegal. Leaving each attraction in Co. Clare, we knew where to go next.

    I don’t think Donegal will become over-commercialised. If visitor management and marketing work hand in hand, sites can provide an enjoyable visitor experience while managing their impacts. The benefits will be seen in the surrounding communities.

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