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Lakelands & Inland Waterways Tourism to reap Gathering boost as Fáilte Ireland Outlines Plans

Published: 25th January 2013

Confidence in the Irish tourism industry about its prospects for the year ahead is at its highest levels since the current downturn began in 2007, it was revealed today at Fáilte Ireland’s annual tourism industry briefing for the Lakelands and Inland Waterways region which was held in The Hodson Bay Hotel, Athlone.

This optimism is also helped by growth in some overseas markets last year, for the first time since the downturn in 2008, particularly traditional in the US, Germany and France.

However, Fáilte Ireland today stressed that targeted changes will need to be effected in our nearest and biggest overseas market – Great Britain – and the national tourism development agency stressed that a radical change in approach to that market would be necessary this year.

Fáilte Ireland’s CEO, Shaun Quinn said - “Tourism is, by its very nature, an optimistic industry but this year there are many good reasons to expect a pick-up in overseas visitors. This is essential as historically our tourism sector has had an over-reliance on the home holiday market which is no longer in a position to guarantee increased revenues. The real action is overseas and that means capitalising on further growth from the US, maintaining our allure in Europe and finally fixing what needs to be mended in the GB market.”

“This year in particular, the industry has been given a leg up with ‘The Gathering’ initiative developed by Fáilte Ireland. The local tourism industry needs to put its best foot forward in 2013 and provide those who have come to ‘gather’ with an unparalleled visitor experience and great value which will encourage visitors to recommend the Lakelands and Inland Waterways as a premier destination and return again and again to the region”.

Tourism in the Lakelands and Inland Waterways

Ms Fiona Monaghan, Head of Operations for Fáilte Ireland in the Lakelands and Inland Waterways, explained that a key focus for the region in 2013 will be the further development and promotion of the local culture and heritage product.

Ms Monaghan stressed that, following significant capital investment over the last few years, Lakelands and Inland Waterways, which includes counties Cavan, Roscommon, Monaghan, Longford, Westmeath, Offaly and North Tipperary, now has the makings of a world class centre for the interpretation and presentation of Ireland’s history.

Ms Monaghan particularly pointed to progress in the last year, which included:

The Gathering 2013
Public meetings completed across the Lakelands and Inland Waterways region. Training Courses for Gathering organisers were rolled out in December to show channels of promotion of events including social media and Gathering website. Gathering Steering Groups have been set up in individual counties with funding provided by IPB & Government.

Athlone Castle Opened
Athlone Castle re-opened its doors to the public on Tuesday 6th November 2012 following a €2 million renovation to transform the castle into a state-of-the-art, multi-sensory visitor experience. The project was grant-aided through Fáilte Ireland’s Tourism Capital Investment Programme. First built in the 13th century as a timber fort, Athlone Castle evolved into a bold, defensive building. Its most significant architectural features, such as the keep, have now been harnessed to act as a dramatic backdrop to its diverse and fascinating story.

Lough Boora Parklands in Offaly
Funding was announced by Minister Varadkar in 2012 under Failte Ireland’s Tourism Capital Investment Programme at Lough Boora which involved an upgrade of the Lough Boora Parklands infrastructure. A new visitor service centre will be provided along with parking areas, and access facilities will be improved. The upgrades will help to ensure the continued viability of tourism in the area. Lough Boora is already a fantastic facility in its own right, and is a key tourism attraction in the Midlands region.

Lakelands Domestic Summer Campaign 2012
-20 Page Compact Family Fun Tabloid Magazine was distributed through the Irish Independent on June 14th & the Belfast Telegraph on June 19th & June 29th. This highlighted Family accommodation offers , Things to See & Do, Festivals & Events, an on-line competition etc.

An Online advertisement highlighting the Lakelands and the on-line competition was featured on the following sites- Family Network incl. EU MOM and Rollercoaster, Homemaker Network incl. Schooldays, DaysOut, MyKidsTime, Facebook Managed ASU's, AD2ONE, TV3.IE, RTE

Lakelands Autumn Campaign 2012

Familiarisation trip and workshop -
Trade Networking Workshop took place in the Radisson Hotel in Athlone on November 1st with 15 European Tour Operators (Angling & Cruising) in attendance meeting up to 50 key trade from around the region.

Two familiarisation trips were organised – one travelling from Enniskillen and one from Killaloe, both headed towards Athlone for the Workshop. -

Lakelands Zone Brochures produced– Lough Erne; Lough Arrow & Lough Key; Lough Ree & Mid Shannon; Lough Derg.

Overseas Marketing Initiatives
- USA: e- marketing campaign featuring Lakelands video clip sent to 3 million Starwood Hotel Group preferred customers.
- USA/Canada: Series of radio Interviews promoting the Lakelands which were syndicated to many radio stations throughout the East Coast of the USA and Canada.

Ms Monaghan added:
“As is clear from tourism’s 2012 performance, Great Britain remains challenged and the home market is levelling off. Any immediate growth for the industry is best assured by focussing on our traditional key markets in North America and Europe – the markets which show the greatest potential for bringing real recovery to the tourism sector. In the year ahead, we will be working with tourism businesses throughout the region to ensure that we identify the best prospects for growth and that we sell smarter to achieve the growth in overseas visitors which the Lakelands and Inland Waterways needs.”

Priorities for 2013

Anticipating developments over the next 12 months, Ms Monaghan stressed that ensuring the success of The Gathering Ireland 2013 – the single most important tourism initiative ever in the history of the state – would be Fáilte Ireland’s top priority. She also emphasised that Fáilte Ireland would be working with Tourism Ireland and tourism industry leaders to revamp and reinvigorate our sales pitch to the UK market. She said:

“With 319 local Lakelands and Inland Waterways Gatherings already organised, The Gathering has immense potential for the Lakelands and Inland Waterways and should be a big boost to the region in 2013. We will also spend the next year working on improving our appeal in Britain and working with individual tourism businesses to help them sell more business in our other overseas markets, particularly Europe and North America. Given the growing importance of technology, we will be pushing a major new initiative on e-business and social media with a particular emphasis on enabling individual firms to exploit digital channels for sales.”

Ms Monaghan added that the national tourism development agency would be exploiting its current portfolio of festivals and attractions in the region to package them into interactive and exciting tourism experiences as well as sourcing and investing in those festivals and attractions which have the greatest potential for Irish tourism.

Pointing to particular developments over the next 12 months, Ms Monaghan anticipated:

Lakelands and Inland Waterways Strategic Plan
This plan was developed to cover the five year period from 2010 – 2015. The strategy sought to define the role and remit of the Lakelands and Inland Waterways initiative and to outline its aims and objectives over this timeframe. However, with changes in economic conditions and trends in tourism, the Steering Group for the Lakelands and Inland Waterways initiative agreed that the strategy needs to be reviewed and an operational plan formulated at this mid-point of the strategy.

Grand and Royal Canals Tourism potential
Consultants to carry out survey on exploiting the tourism potential of both the Grand and Royal Canals.

Lakelands Spring Campaign 2013
Domestic Promotional initiative targeting school children with the objective of creating further awareness of the Lakelands destination as a domestic holiday destination.

Trail Development
Development of a number of trails exploiting the key strengths of the Lakelands destination, particularly in the area of Christian Heritage and Historic houses.

Trade and Media Fam Trips
In bound trade and media familiarisation trips of the Lakelands region to include key visitor attractions including the newly restored Athlone Castle.

Concluding today’s event, CEO Shaun Quinn stressed:

“Looking back to the darkest days of 2009 and 2010, it is clear as we begin 2013 that we are entering a new phase of our recovery. Moving from mere survival, tourism businesses are now consolidating and looking everywhere they can for growth opportunities.

“The Lakelands and Inland Waterways has great appeal, an innovative tourism industry and a good local Fáilte Ireland team. I’m pleased to say that I am, and I believe the tourism industry in the Lakelands and Inland Waterways is, more hopeful and optimistic than we’ve been for a very long time and, with the promise of The Gathering to come, this could be a pivotal year for local tourism.”

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