Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Michael Ring T.D. today promised visitors the “journey of a lifetime” as he officially launched the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s first long-distance touring route. Fáilte Ireland is investing €10 million during 2014 in the route which stretches from the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal to Kinsale in County Cork and already the new attraction is garnering significant interest overseas.
Speaking today, Minister Ring said: “The Wild Atlantic Way is a really exciting project which I’m delighted to launch today. It’s the world’s longest touring route through some of Ireland’s most beautiful places, and is already proving a hit in our key overseas markets like Britain, the US, France and Germany.
“It has massive potential to bring more visitors and more jobs to rural communities right along the western seaboard. That’s why we will soon be promoting it even further afield in places like Spain, Italy and the Netherlands.”
The Minister emphasised that the Government had allocated €8 million for the project this year (which was announced in the 2014 Budget) and along with €2million previously committed from Fáilte Ireland’s Tourism Capital Investment Programme, a total investment of €10 million will take place in 2014.
The development of the Wild Atlantic Way is an evolving long term development project starting with the route and the Signature Discovery Points with further interpretation and touring loops with various enhancements coming on stream over the next few years.
The lure of the Wild Atlantic Way
International experience shows the packaging and branding of assets into defined touring routes increases visits from domestic and international visitors. Indeed, touring routes help attract more people, get them to stay for longer, make more repeat visits and spend more money, often in rural areas.
Furthermore, internationally, touring routes are increasingly seen as a powerful regional economic development tool for rural areas and can deliver additional jobs and grow the local economy.
The route offers the traveller a great amount to see and do including: over 500 Visitor Attractions; more than 1,500 activities to pursue; 580 festivals and events throughout the year; 17 trails and 50 looped walks; 53 Blue Flag beaches; and 120 Golf Courses including some of the best ‘links’ golf in the world.
The wealth of things to see and do has also allowed Fáilte Ireland to customise experiences for different types of visitors. These include propositions such as:
‘Exploring on the Edge’ – showcasing the unique landscapes and micro-climates of the west coast, its flora, fauna, caves and mines, incorporating activities such as whale and dolphin watching, exploring unique seascapes by boat as well as local food experiences.
‘Culture at the Edge’ – opening up Ireland’s unique language, music and dance cultures, its unique Gaelic sports, traditional crafts, great festivals, island life (‘island hopping’), legends and Folklore.
‘Active on the edge’ – promoting the west coast’s great surfing locations, world class links courses, coastal walks, great sea and game angling and horse riding.
In essence, whatever activities or whatever length of route they wish to pursue, there is a personalised Wild Atlantic Way for every visitor. A promotional video for the route can be viewed on Fáilte Ireland’s YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/FailteIrelandTV.
Trade and Community Engagement
The involvement of communities along the western seaboard will be critical to the success of the Wild Atlantic Way project.
Following on from a very successful year of The Gathering in 2013, Fáilte Ireland carried out a very effective series of community briefings along the route earlier this month. It is estimated that 1,300 people attended these briefings in 13 locations across the seven counties along the route. Attendees came from a range of backgrounds including tourism businesses, stakeholders and community representatives.
Fiona Monaghan, Fáilte Ireland’s Head of the Wild Atlantic Way, emphasised: “The enthusiasm out there for this project is impressive, not only amongst tourism businesses but also in the wider community. The key to success for this initiative will be its authenticity – not just the places but also the people of the Wild Atlantic Way.
“Fáilte Ireland is working with tourism operators and local communities to ensure that they can engage with the opportunities offered by the project and to assist them in ‘telling and selling’ and in bringing their stories to life along the route.”
The complete 2,500km route from Malin Head in Donegal to the Old Head of Kinsale in Cork will be completely signed with the distinctive Wild Atlantic way ‘zig-zag’/chevron branding by the end of next month. The new tourism initiative is dependent on attractive and consistent branding and Fáilte Ireland is working in partnership with the National Roads Authority and the 10 Local Authorities along the route to ensure all that the necessary signage is in place for the start of this year’s tourism season next month. By next month, a total of 3,850 signs will have been erected along the 2,500km route. Despite the recent adverse weather conditions, this element of the project is still on target.
The Wild Atlantic Way will also feature 159 ‘Discovery Points’ with €2 million being invested in these throughout 2014. Along the route, these points are distinct sites, large and small, each chosen for their potential to offer visitors an authentic and intimate experience of the natural and wild landscape and seascape. A Discovery Point is a viewing point at which the visitor can stop off along the route and learn more about that place by means of on-site information and interpretation.
Ultimately, as the Wild Atlantic Way funding is invested, each point will have enhanced parking facilities which will serve as the arrival points for each site as well as large scale information and interpretative signage and picnic facilities. They will afford the Wild Atlantic Way farer the opportunity to rest, catch their bearings and explore all there is to offer at each particular location.
All the 26 offshore west coast islands are Discovery Points and each of these will have branded ‘Embarkation Points’ on the route to provide direction and access to the islands.
Signature Discovery Points – ‘15 Wonders of the Wild Atlantic Way’
Along the Wild Atlantic Way, 15 of these 159 Discovery Points have been identified as being “Signature Discovery Points” – in other words, iconic must-see sights along Ireland’s west coast.
Of these 15 iconic sites, three are already well-established visitor attractions and will require minimal work to play their part – Sliabh Liag in Co Donegal, the Cliffs of Moher, Co Clare and Mizen Head, Co Cork. Fáilte Ireland, in conjunction with the relevant Local Authorities, are assessing and prioritising the remaining 12 sites in terms of future development. It is envisaged that detailed plans will be commissioned for each site by the end of 2014 and implementation will be begin in early 2015.
The Wild Atlantic Way, being a project of scale, gives Ireland a stand-out proposition with which to cut through all the chatter in overseas markets and offer something distinctive, original and appealing to overseas visitors.
The route is already a key element of Tourism Ireland’s overseas marketing campaigns for 2014. In Germany, France and the US, there were dedicated cinema campaigns over the Christmas and New Year holidays featuring a promotional advertisement for the route.
Dino Steinkamp of Dertour, one of Germany and Austria’s leading tour operators, believes that the Wild Atlantic Way will certainly appeal to his customers. He anticipated the appeal of the new route for his customers:
“Germans love the coastline and they are always looking for outstanding scenery which they wouldn’t find at home. We in Dertour like the Wild Atlantic Way so much, we are featuring it on the front page of our current brochure!”
Anticipating interest from North America and pointing to the initiatives appeal to both coach tourists and fly & drive visitors from the USA, Brian Stack of US-based CIE Tours International said:
“We are aware that most Americans live more than 700 miles from the coast. So, things we take for granted, like huge waves and majestic coastlines are a novelty to them.
”We are all very excited about promoting the Wild Atlantic Way and it fits right into our programmes planned for 2014 and 2015. We will feature this concept in our advertising, our ‘e-blasts’, our Facebook presence and, indeed, in all our promotions”.
You can access a video with more on these overseas observations on Fáilte Ireland’s YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/FailteIrelandTV.
At home, Fáilte Ireland has developed a suite of Wild Atlantic Way digital content for online promotions which is also available to tourism businesses to assist them in selling their own Wild Atlantic Way holidays and tourism experiences.
Fáilte Ireland will also invite a series of international media outlets to travel along the Wild Atlantic Way throughout 2014 and will make the route its centrepiece when it hosts the international Adventure Travel Tourism Association’s (ATTA) global conference in Killarney in October.
Fáilte Ireland is currently developing a specially designed Wild Atlantic Way app which will be available for visitors at the end of June. This app – which is being designed for both Apple and Android devices – will be a key resource for visitors as they travel along the route and will be a very part tool in ensuring that visitors spread out to discover all to see and do off-route as well. All businesses along the route will be encouraging visitors to download the app to ensure they maximise their Wild Atlantic Way experience.
Finally, Fáilte Ireland will be promoting the Wild Atlantic Way extensively through its own Discover Ireland home holiday marketing – encouraging the domestic audience to rediscover the west and the many hidden gems it has to offer.
Minister Ring concluded: “Unlike The Gathering, the Wild Atlantic Way is not a ‘one-off’ but rather an evolving project which will build and develop over the years. However, I believe that it can equal The Gathering in one way and that is how it will impact those counties it traverses.
“With its capacity to drive extra visitor footfall, mobilise communities and showcase the best of this country, the Wild Atlantic Way is set to be one of the most significant developments in modern Irish tourism and to be a significant engine of regeneration for rural Ireland.”