Failte Ireland, the national tourism development agency for Ireland, is creating a new driving route along the west coast called The Wild Atlantic Way, to be launched in 2013.
Ambitions for the route are high with the intention that it will rival Australia’s Great Ocean Road, South Africa’s Garden Route, California’s LA to San Francisco coastal route and various coastal routes in Norway.
The purpose of the marketing exercise (it’s not expected that any new roads will be built) is to develop a long-distance driving route that will achieve greater visibility for the west coast of Ireland in overseas tourist markets. Opening up and linking the destinations in such a way will, it is hoped, develop the tourism sector in areas where there are precious few other economic drivers.
The project is currently in the midst of a consultation phase. This 2 minute video gives an overview:
The Wild Atlantic Way has been broadly well received so far, although publicity to date has been scant.
The trial project of The Wild Atlantic Way in Connemara announced earlier this summer was funded to the tune of €1.8 million of government money but, with Irish citizens bracing themselves for another budget in early December, it’s not sure where the funding will come from for the remaining investments proposed.
Other downers to the project include fierce local debates about the precise route and whether a speedier and possibly newer road is preferred to a more scennic one. There discussion of the route has also opened up an already heated debate in Donegal about wind turbines and where they can be situated.
The current public consultation exercise includes a social media campaign as well a face to face roadshow culminating in an event in Letterkenny on Wednesday 5 December.
The public consultation exercise closes on Friday 14 December and responses should be made in writing to Wild Atlantic Way Project, Fáilte Ireland, 88-95 Amiens Street, Dublin 1 or can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
Sandwiched between the visits to Dublin of Queen Elizabeth and Barack Obama comes Donegal Live this Sunday.
Returning to Dublin following the resounding success of last year’s event in Temple Bar, Donegal Live will be at the Iveagh Gardens on Sunday 22nd May.
Lots of Donegal artists will perform throughout the day including Moya Brennan, Mickey Joe Harte, Boxtie, The Perfect Mix and many more with The High Kings headlining.
All of the artists, together with as yet unamed Donegal personalities, are lending their name and time to promote the county.
I caught up again with Hugh Harkin to find out more.
Hugh, one of the founders of Donegal Live and Chair of Donegal Association in Dublin, told me:
“The Donegal Association is again giving its support to Donegal Live for another year in Dublin. We were overwhelmed by the impact that Donegal Live made last year in Temple Bar.
It was very satisfying to learn that it resulted in a very significant increase in the number of people from the Dublin area who visited Donegal last summer.”
As with the very successful Donegal Live in Glasgow earlier this month, the team behind the event will be mobilising all the Donegal people living in Dublin to get an even bigger crowd to the Iveagh Gardens. The tactics that worked for Obama are being employed here for promoting Donegal.
“After our resounding success in staging Donegal Live in Glasgow on Sunday 1st May we are more convinced than ever of the importance of the work of the Donegal Diaspora in the success of Donegal Live in Dublin and Glasgow.
I would make a call to the Donegal Diaspora around the world to consider how they could – individually and collectively – make a significant contribution to the county at this time when it is very badly needed.”
Many people and organisations have been involved in Donegal Live.
“I would like to express our thanks to those who have helped make Donegal Live a success, the many volunteers, the artists, the many sectors in the tourist industry in the County, the media and last but not least our funders.
Donegal Live has brought about a unique co-operation between a whole host of people from the public and private sectors working together for the benefit of the County.
“I want to thank Tourism Ireland, Failte Ireland, Donegal County Council, the Hotels Federation (Donegal Branch ), the Donegal Association, and Co Donegal Tourism Ltd who have all provided funding.
“I want to particularly thank Donegal Local Development Company (Donegal Leader) without whose support this year’s Donegal Live in the Iveagh Gardens would not be taking place.”
As well as the music, the family day out will also include showcases from up to twenty tourism sectors from the county and Donegal Food Coast will be providing samples of the best of Donegal cuisine.
Plus kids of all ages will be entertained with face painting, balloon modellers and familiar characters to suit all ages.
On Sunday 1st May musicians from Donegal, including Daniel O’Donnell, will join together in central Glasgow to perform in a musical celebration of Ireland’s ‘forgotten county’.
In this post I interview one of the founders of Donegal Live, Hugh Harkin, about the event and what it is trying to achieve.
JH: Where did the idea for Donegal Live came from?
HH: Donegal Live is the brainchild of former Donegal Person of the Year, John Carr. After he won his award in 2007 John set himself the challenge getting others to recognise Donegal as a world class tourist destination.
The inaugural Donegal Live event took place in Temple Bar, Dublin on Sunday May 16th last year and was a big success with over 20,000 people attending and well over 100 artists taking part.
JH: Why is Donegal Live an important event for the county and what do you hope to achieve?
HH: Donegal Live aims to showcase everything the county has to offer to visitors in one day. We want to encourage people to visit and then once they get here the people of Donegal will do the rest.
Research carried out by Failte Ireland shows that once someone has visited Donegal they will come back so the key is to get people to make that initial visit.
Donegal is one of the least wealthy counties on the island of Ireland, being the furthest away from the economic centres of both Dublin and Belfast. The local economy is traditionally based on agriculture but tourism has the potential to be the biggest revenue generator in the area.
That said, Ireland is a small place and Donegal is still only 2.5 hours from Belfast and 3 hours from Dublin and the international airport at Derry is just half an hour away.
Last year Donegal saw a 30% drop in visitors from both Britain and Northern Ireland but a big increase in the number of visitors from Dublin after the Donegal Live event was held there, which made up for the shortfall.
This year we want to get people in Scotland to see Donegal as a holiday destination and for them to consider Donegal when planning their own short breaks, weekends away or family holidays.
Our message at the Donegal Live event in Dublin this year will be similar – Donegal is the ideal place for your staycation.
JH: What’s Donegal got to offer visitors?
HH: Well, as a native Donegal man I suppose I am a bit biased here but I do think it’s one of the most beautiful places in Ireland, if not the world! There are miles of deserted Blue Flag beaches and the dramatic Blue Stack mountains, including the distinctive Muckish Mountain and the wonderful Ards Forest Park in Creeslough.
People come to Donegal to play golf, go surfing, horse ride, walk, cycle, fish and just sight see. There is also a healthy marine tourism sector here too.
We’ve got the highest sea cliffs in Europe at Slieve League in the south of the county and golden eagles born and bred at Glenveigh Castle to the north. Malin Head, Ireland’s most northerly point, is also in Donegal.
I think Packie Bonner, Ireland goalkeeper, ex Celtic footballer and native of Donegal, got it right when he said that Donegal will live in your heart for the rest of your days.
JH: How did you get this year’s event in Glasgow off the ground?
HH: We wanted to build on the success of last year’s first Donegal Live Event in Dublin because this kind of initiative doesn’t work if it is just a one of.
Donegal’s affinity with Glasgow is strong. Many Donegal people emigrated to Scotland, particularly Glasgow, and consequently many of us have family living and working there – it’s almost a home from home.
The strong and active Donegal community in Glasgow has made this year’s Donegal Live event possible.
We’ve currently got over 50 people involved in promoting the event through the various clubs and associations, leaflets and posters and, most importantly, word of mouth. There is a system of chain emails going on which seems to be working in spreading the word.
Last year, for our first Donegal Live event in Dublin, we had personal contact with over 100,000 people who helped to promote the day so we know word of mouth works!
This year Tourism Ireland are funding a substantial advertising and PR campaign in Scotland to promote the Glasgow event and Failte Ireland are running a similar campaign to promote the Donegal Live event at Iveigh Gardens in Dublin on 22nd May.
JH: Who’s been involved in Donegal Live?
HH: The initiative has been funded by the Donegal Association in Dublin, Donegal Tourism Ltd., Failte Ireland North West & Donegal County Council.
Plus up to 20 sectors from the tourism industry in Donegal are participating eg hotels and other accommodation, attractions, activities, sporting and transportation.
JH: Setting up any musical festival is complicated, let alone one overseas. What’s been involved?
HH: John and I started working on the Glasgow event for Donegal Live last May, just a week or so after the first Donegal Live took place. We didn’t rest on our laurels!
One of the first things we did was to set a date that suited all parties, not least all the entertainers. We knew we needed to hold it around the time when most people are planning their holidays so that limited us.
Getting the venues booked and working with local agencies such as Glasgow City Council and the Merchant Square event team to organise road closures and setting up of temporary stages, dancing areas and exhibition stands also happened early on.
A very active group of 50 or so Donegal people and friends of Donegal in Glasgow are busily preparing for the day. We’re expecting 200 volunteers on day.
JH: Who’s playing this year?
HH: There are two parts to the day, really. The people of Glasgow and the surrounding area will be treated to a whole afternoon of free entertainment from 12noon until 6pm in Merchant’s Square.
The adjoining Bell Street will be taken over with the Donegal Live Showcase, where the various sectors from the leisure and tourist industries in the county will be on show.
The day will be a family day out with a carnival atmosphere. The Mullaghduff Pipe Band will lead the street entertainment, which will also include clowns, face painting, magicians and more.
The Ardara Set Dancing Group will set the ball rolling in Merchants Square with a mid-day Ceili, with music provided by St. Roch’s CCE. Following this, the stage in Merchants Square will host a terrific blend of Donegal and Scottish artists.
Among them will be Scottish artists the Irish Minstrels, CCE, the McHugh Group, the Friel sisters, Paul McKenna Band, the Amadáns and the Wakes. Plus popular Scottish band Yup Tae will be performing.
Of course, people can also expect some of the Donegal artists appearing later that evening at Donegal Live in Concert, to drop in for some surprise appearances.
Tickets are now on sale for Donegal Live in Concert, which will take place in the Royal Concert Hall and are selling fast.
Artists for the evening concert include Mickey Harte, Pat Gallagerh (ex Goats Don’t Shave), Matt McGranaghan and Kintra, comedian Conal Gallen, The Campbells, The McLoughlin Dancers and Donegal’s own, Daniel O’Donnell.
JH: What does the future hold for Donegal Live?
HH: Donegal Live is going from strength to strength this year with the double events in Glasgow and Dublin.
We’d love to take our Donegal Live road show to other cities too and some people have mentioned London, New York, Manchester, Hamburg and Milwaukee for future years. The world’s our oyster!
JH: How much does it cost and where can people buy tickets?
HH: The afternoon of family entertainment at Merchant’s Square and Bell Street from 12noon to 6pm is completely free.
Tickets to Donegal Live in Concert evening at the Royal Concert Hall are available from the Tourist Office, Letterkenny, tel. +00353 (0)74 9121160, as well as a number of outlets in Glasgow and are priced at £25 and £20.