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    Growing tourism in marine and coastal areas

    Growing tourism in marine and coastal areas

    Fáilte Ireland CEO Shaun Quinn addresses conference
    'Our Ocean Wealth', Dublin Castle
    18th June


    Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,

    I’d like to thank you for affording me this opportunity to contribute to your deliberations today by offering a tourism perspective. These are exciting times for tourism in Ireland. Business is good and getting better and our coastal and marine areas can certainly compete for their ‘unfair share’ of the takings.

    The short video for the Wild Atlantic Way that we have just seen illustrates the thrust of our international marketing campaigns for the west coast this year and we believe it really captures both the opportunities and challenges which lie before us in developing tourism in Ireland’s coastal and marine areas.

    Knowing what we do of those travellers most likely to holiday in Ireland, our coastal areas offer undoubted opportunity. Yet also knowing what we do of the challenges to delivering world class coastal tourism experiences, we could easily fail to realise that potential.

    The prize in our sights is simple - tourism growth, that is growth in earnings (preferably from overseas visitors) and growth in employment. But we also want tourism to grow on a sustainable basis. For that reason, we need to concern ourselves with four sets of conditions:
    1. Happy visitors – leaving Ireland with expectations met or exceeded and returning again or recommending Ireland to others
    2. Profitable enterprises – large and small, capable of satisfying our visitors competitively at a profit to sustain operations and to reinvest in the business
    3. A Nurtured environment – our natural environment, in particular, is a key asset on which tourism trades. It must be sensitively developed and managed or else the future will not be bright.
    4. Engaged communities – sustainable tourism proactively engages with local communities for economic benefit and through its actions should enhance a location as a place to live as well as a place to visit.
    The Wild Atlantic Way is a good example of this in action as well as of our approach to the broader topic of tourism in coastal and marine areas.

    I prefer to use the term ‘tourism in coastal and marine areas’ deliberately rather than marine tourism. Marine tourism implies marine tourists, which where they exist, they do so in limited number. In Ireland, we don’t seek out marine tourists no more than we do cycling tourists or literary tourists.

    Who do we seek out? Well, the vast majority of our visitors tend to fall into one of three market segments based on their needs and motivations These motivations cover a range of experiences, on shore, off-shore and inland.
    In other words, through a tourism lens, marine forms part of a visitor’s experience rather than offering a separate experience of itself. That’s important to understand and to accept before examining the elements of an appropriate development agenda.  

    This aspect of our tourism offering is big and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that most of our work as an organisation is concentrated along our coastline. There is good reason for this. When we ‘geo plot’ the places in Ireland which tourists actually visit (and where as a consequence our industry is located), we find that over 70% of Ireland’s tourism business is concentrated within less than 30% of our landmass - and that area typically hugs our coastline from Malin to Mizen and right around to Carlingford.

    Let’s put some numbers on this business. We don’t have official statistics for tourism in coastal and marine areas, but my colleagues in Failte Ireland utilise a number of our own survey tools to arrive at a good estimate. Applying those insights, we reckon that tourism in the counties along that stretch of coastline (and excluding Dublin which is an urban experience) is probably worth €2 billion to the economy. Of this total, just over €1 billion is contributed by overseas tourists. Associated employment sustained locally in hospitality and tourism services is probably in the region of 80,000 jobs.

    These earnings and employment estimates are much higher than those normally attributed to marine tourism but I believe they are more appropriate in representing the total tourism dividend from our coastline.
    So the dividend is significant but there’s also considerable potential for further growth from international markets in particular. This is more lucrative than simply moving leisure euros from Rathfarnham to Rathmullan or from Wicklow to Westport.

    Within an international tourism context, Ireland is part of a mature European market with growth rates well behind those of the new and emerging Asian markets.

    Most of our business today actually comes from within the European market and in reality for the foreseeable future most of our business will come from there, followed by North America. That is not to say Ireland shouldn’t seek to develop a foothold in the newer growth markets but in reality that will take time.

    Dependent as we are on mature markets, it means that to grow we need to “steal a competitor’s lunch”. To do that, we need a much better understanding of our markets and specifically the consumer segments are looking for what we have to offer. This brings me back to those market segments I mentioned earlier with the most growth potential for Ireland, of which there are three.

    Who are they?

    Well, one (Social Energisers) relates to an urban tourism experience or city break which in an Irish context means Dublin. However, the other two segments more relevant to our coastal and marine experience. Let me draw a pen picture of each.

    The first we call the Great Escapers. They’re often couples, in their 30’s with young children. They are specifically interested in rural holidays and travel to remote places very much as a couple or a family. They want to connect with the landscape, feel the earth beneath their feet, soak up the beauty. They are more likely to take part in slightly more strenuous but not extreme exploration on land or off-shore. Their objective is to return home refreshed and revitalised, their batteries recharged.

    The second segment of interest is termed the Culturally Curious. They’re slightly older, 40 and over. They travel to broaden their minds and expand their experience by exploring new landscapes and seascapes, history and culture.  They choose their holiday destinations carefully and are independent ‘active sightseers’. They want to ‘do a place’ and are unlikely to return for some time. They travel as couples. If they have children, they have grown up and have left home. Generally, they have above average incomes and education.
    These segments are not the type to decamp en mass to Alpine ski slopes or Mediterranean beaches (which drives much of tourism on the European Continent).

    We believe we can meet their needs by leveraging our areas of comparative advantage; our Natural Heritage (landscapes and seascapes), our built heritage and our cultural heritage.

    However, we also believe that given our relatively small size and limited resources, it isn’t easy to be noticed in a cluttered and noisy marketplace. Therefore, we must pursue projects of scale and singularity as a necessary first step.  

    And that’s the context for why we pursued the concept of the Wild Atlantic Way - the longest themed touring route in the world. We’ve been working on it since early 2012.  

    The route comprises a central spine, weaving along our Atlantic coast, with a series of loops and spurs to encourage visitors to explore, dwell longer and hopefully spend more. It showcases our best scenery and visitor attractions with improved on-road infrastructure and in time world class ‘Discovery Points’ with excellent interpretation.

    It’s still early days but the initial response from tour operators has been very encouraging and my colleague Fiona Monaghan will elaborate further during the discussion. Along the route, businesses, community groups and local residents have all expressed interest in becoming involved and exploiting the opportunity for home advantage.     
    We want the Wild Atlantic Way to be successful long term and for this it must be developed sustainably, particularly along coastal and marine environments, some of which are protected under European and Irish law, so developments such as this must progress in a manner that is consistent with their conservation requirements.

    Lessons learned

    Obviously, the Wild Atlantic Way is very much in its infancy. However, we’re already learning some valuable lessons for future projects of this scale:
    1. The Importance of Community                            
    Failte Ireland does not deliver memorable experiences to visitors. That is the job of the communities and businesses on the ground and for whom these initiatives are being designed to benefit.
    Once the state ‘scaffolding’ surrounding this project is removed in a few years’ time, we want to ensure that the Wild Atlantic Way is firmly rooted in and owned by the local communities all along the Atlantic coast for their benefit. Extending the tourist season in some remote parts by just a few weeks can bring significant benefits to communities.
    1. The Need for Collaboration
    Obviously, partnership and collaboration are very much key to the delivery of projects like the Wild Atlantic Way. This route crosses nine counties - so nine local Authorities are now collaborating with us to implement an extensive and common signage programme and our discovery point strategy. I’m told that prior to this project there were 35 ‘touring routes’ along the West coast of Ireland alone and only two of these crossed a county boundary (and that was probably by mistake!).
    For projects of this nature, we must be open to working in different ways and realise the undoubted advantages of collaborating across the public sector for the prize of earnings and employment growth. Surely these must be among the key performance indicators of all public bodies.
    1. The Consumer is Supreme
    Finally, projects of this scale carry a high degree of risk. We are all familiar with tourism investments which have failed to deliver. More often than not they arose from the - “build it and they will come” mentality - which still haunts us! Projects even on the shore line with little or no exploration of the tourism appeal or potential dividend.
    We wouldn’t have pursued the Wild Atlantic Way project but for the investment we made up front in understanding the market and the needs and motivations of potential visitors. Looking at a demand side approach to planning, rather than simply supply side, ensures that decisions are insight and consumer-led and as a consequence with better prospects for success.  

    From Land to Sea - building on a variety of initiatives

    From a coastal and marine perspective, this focus on the consumer is particularly important in understanding just how visitors wish to access and engage with our coastline. There is sometimes an assumption that tourism in marine areas is simply sailing and cruising. Yet, for the majority of visitors, access to the coastline is actually from the land and, therefore, a range of both sea-to-land, but perhaps more importantly, land-to-sea solutions and opportunities must be provided. This can range across water-based activities such as surfing, sailing, kayaking and wildlife watching to coast-based walks, attractions and services.

    Of course, we’re not starting from scratch either and the Wild Atlantic Way is being developed on top of years of investment along our coasts, such as in coastal walks at including Sliabh Liag in Donegal and the Sheep’s Head in Cork or the Great Western Greenway project in Mayo.

    On foot of the Greenway, we launched Ireland’s first ‘Blueway’ experience earlier this month. The objective of the Blueway is to encourage visitors – coming from the land - to engage with the sea in a number of pilot areas along the West Coast of Galway and Mayo.

    From sea to land – cruise tourism

    I am conscious that in the interest of time today I am not in a position to discuss the growing cruise tourism sector. While cruise passengers are not recorded in our official statistics as tourists, they are nonetheless immensely valuable to the economy in revenue terms.

    International demand for the product remains strong. Even in difficult economic times, the cruise industry has so far proven to be relatively recession resistant- particularly in Northern and Western Europe- and Ireland has seen both the ships and the number of cruise tourists increase substantially over the past decade, a trend we hope will continue. Our analysis is that Ireland is well-placed to grow its cruise business and I am looking forward to hearing from Jens Skrede from Cruise Europe later as to how he sees the sector in Europe developing.

    Some Challenges

    I mentioned earlier the challenges which face us in the delivery of world class tourism experiences and I would like to pick up on these again.

    I believe an appropriate policy for tourism in marine and coastal areas must incorporate a range of both sea-to-land and land-to sea solutions and opportunities, reflective of how our visitor accesses the marine and coastal experience. These should involve the management, maintenance and regeneration of existing assets, not just new infrastructure. There is the opportunity to reinvigorate the existing product and develop new offerings, thus potentially creating jobs and revenue.

    So how can we address some of these issues?

    The Government plan ‘Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth’ is the basis for today’s conference and provides significant opportunities to leverage Ireland’s key marine assets going forward. In fact this plan will help us to further unlock the potential along our extensive coastline and help us to bring projects alive such as the Wild Atlantic Way.

    From a tourism perspective if I was to specifically identify some areas for improvement, I would have to suggest the following:
    • Improved access to our shoreline, particularly using existing infrastructure, permissions to access land or even through new ways of working so that public resources such as ports, harbours, piers, marinas etc, are shared with private enterprises. The forthcoming all-island lighthouse trail in development by the Commissioners of Irish Lights, represented here today by Yvonne Shields is a great example of utilising existing maritime assets.    
    • Secondly, there is a need to move away from a focus on the delivery of hard infrastructure alone as a mechanism for generating tourism demand and to focus on developing supports for communities in particular who play a key role in the visitor experiences and in their engagement with the visitor. Towns and villages which are picturesque and welcoming are nice places to live, and somewhere that is nice to live is somewhere that is nice to visit.
    • Thirdly, we need to provide for a complete visitor experience and not just of an activity or a product. Visitors don’t come to Ireland for a berth, or to visit a harbour or pier, they want a fully immersive experience. If the tourism sector is to provide this experience then activities, attractions, pubs, restaurants, hotels etc, need to be working together to deliver this, and need to reconnect to each other.
      If even some of these issues can be addressed through initiatives such as the Government’s Integrated Marine Plan and the Wild Atlantic Way, then even greater potential can be realised from our coastal regions.


    We have compelling assets all along our dramatic coast which we take for granted - which others living within densely populated and industrialised cities around the world would love to experience. Add to this, we have a rich and authentic culture unique to this island which is warm, welcoming and engaging. We are a small island and, if all the interests involved can work smarter and closer together, there is no reason why we can’t enjoy significant growth in tourism within marine areas.

    Don’t just take my word for it when I say we have some of the best raw materials to work from. I want to draw your attention to the stunning photos which have been running in the background as I’ve been speaking and I want to thank An Taisce for providing these photos today. These are part of the ‘Love Your Coast’ photography competition run by An Taisce’s Clean Coast Programme - and which we are delighted to sponsor each year.

    The event today reinforces the importance of this sector at national level across many sectors (tourism included). It is very encouraging to see so many stakeholders come together to bring such focus to the issues involved. From Failte Ireland’s point of view, be assured that we will continue to play our part in ensuring that tourism delivers growth and a sustainable future for our coastal communities.

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