The Wild Atlantic Way Is A Winner For Tourism

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A 2,500-kilometre driving route along Ireland’s west coast is proving popular with visitors and tourism businesses alike.

Billed as one of the world’s ultimate road trips, the Wild Atlantic Way is Ireland’s answer to California’s Pacific Coast Highway or the Garden Route of South Africa’s Western Cape. Stretching over 2,500 kilometres from Donegal in the north to Cork in the far south, it takes in nine counties along Ireland’s extraordinary west coast and features some of the most breathtaking scenery in the country.

The route was created in 2014 as a way of boosting tourism to some of Ireland’s most picturesque but economically challenged communities. Involving little actual construction save some road resurfacing and the installation of thousands of distinctive signs to direct people to the scenic points, it highlights the great tourism assets of the west and provides visitors with an excuse to explore and extend their stay.

Has it worked? According to both anecdote and evidence, the answer is a resounding yes. From Malin Head (Ireland’s most northerly point) to the Old Head of Kinsale in the far south, it’s hard to find anyone with a bad word to say about the scheme. Hotel operators, campsite owners, car-hire firms, and the many fine pubs and restaurants along the route all report their satisfaction with, and enthusiasm for, the Wild Atlantic Way.

It’s also easy to see why visitors have embraced the route, which is the antithesis of modern travel; it’s just about the slowest way imaginable to travel from one place to another. And that’s exactly the point: you have to invest some time with this rugged landscape – which many agree rivals the greatest spectacles the planet has to offer – to fully appreciate it.

Hey, big spender

While it’s hard to attribute any growth in Irish tourism specifically to this road, there’s no doubt the sector is experiencing welcome improvement. According to the latest report from Fáilte Ireland issued in June 2017, overseas visitor numbers to Ireland increased in 2016 by 8.8% to 8.7m. The lucrative US market increased by 14.2%, with the number of visitors from mainland Europe growing by 7.7%.

Interestingly, the report found that Ireland’s suitability for touring scored the lowest of nine ‘destination issues’ surveyed, with just 50% of visitors ranking this as important. Nevertheless, 83% reported satisfaction with their experience of touring, providing a substantial disparity between expectation and experience. This fact alone suggests the touring potential of the Wild Atlantic Way has not yet been fully marketed to potential visitors.

If so, it seems the best ambassadors are those businesses already reaping the benefits of the route and actively promoting it – and that means everyone along the Wild Atlantic Way has the potential to win.

 

“We’ve had nothing but a positive response from customers to the route. It really suits the adventurous soul who wants to discover the beauty of Ireland”

Lisa Ryan, Marketing Executive, Avis Budget Ireland

 

Typical of this attitude is Portsalon Luxury Camping in Cashelpreaghan, County Donegal. Tapping in to the growing market for glamping – pre-erected tents or yurts and high-quality facilities – Portsalon is enthusiastic about the Wild Atlantic Way.

“We promote it to our customers in a number of ways, using the logo on our site, and hashtags on our social media posts,” says owner Helen Haworth. “We keep a book on the route in our communal area [Exploring Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way by David Flanagan and Richard Creagh], and this is well used by guests. We discuss the route, particularly the local signature discovery points such as Fanad Lighthouse, which is a big draw.”

Portsalon launched in 2014, the same year as the Wild Atlantic Way, and Haworth reports customer numbers have increased steadily every year since. “More customers each year seem to be following the Wild Atlantic Way – both overseas and Irish visitors,” she says.

Hire standards

Further evidence that visitors are not yet saturated with Wild Atlantic Way promotions comes from the car-hire sector. Fáilte Ireland’s survey of overseas visitors reveals 31% hired a car, a statistic that has not changed significantly over the past five years.

Nevertheless car-hire companies report increased interest in and satisfaction with the Wild Atlantic Way.

“We’ve seen nothing but a positive response from customers to the route,” says Avis Budget Ireland Digital Marketing Executive Lisa Ryan. “It really suits the adventurous soul who wants to discover the beauty of Ireland. Our experience is that people driving a section of the route tend to rent one of our bigger cars for a more comfortable journey.”

Meanwhile, hoteliers are also reporting increased business, with many citing the Wild Atlantic Way as an influence on visitor numbers. A report in The Kerryman in July said that three quarters of hotels in County Kerry – with its beautiful Dingle Peninsula – were busier than in 2016.

Meanwhile, the latest figures from the Central Statistics Office show an increase in US visitors to Ireland of more than 20% in the first half of 2017 alone, with visitors from mainland Europe up by more than 6%.

And, says Joe Dolan, President at the Irish Hotels Federation: “The Wild Atlantic Way, in particular, has reinvigorated our tourism brand and Ireland’s image as a holiday destination, giving holidaymakers new and compelling reasons to visit, and importantly spreading tourism beyond the key cities and traditional tourism hotspots.”

If the Wild Atlantic Way is proving to be a success, it’s because businesses the length of Ireland’s west coast can see how the scheme is working and are encouraged to join in the national marketing campaign. It’s becoming a self-sustaining phenomenon, as well as a scenic driving route with enormous appeal.

 

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