by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
Seismic change in Ireland’s Tourism Product and Promotion
During the thirty years of my involvement with incoming tourism there has been a seismic shift in Ireland’s tourism product and the way it’s promoted. In the 80s I conducted 7 and 10 day tours of the country with sophisticated Italians who marvelled at our unpolluted waters, salivated at our rich pasture land, looked longingly at our verdant woodlands but despaired to ever find fresh lobster, artisan cheese or porcini mushrooms on the dinner menu in their hotel.
These days the same Italians could spend 7 or 10 days on the Wild Atlantic Way and have a world class, authentic culinary experience every day without eating in the same place twice. Within the arc of a single generation we’ve come a long way but sometimes we need to pause and look back to realise just how far we’ve travelled!
Last week I was back in the South East of Ireland where a new tourism brand –Ireland’s Ancient East – is helping to join the dots between some spectacular but previously isolated visitor experiences. Here’s a look at some of the experiences that await visitors in the West Waterford / East Cork areas presented through the filter of the business tourism or MICE visitor.
Ireland’s Ancient East
The Waterford or Deise Greenway is a newly opened 45km off-road walking / cycling track that links Waterford city and Dungarvan, one of the county’s great coastal towns. Like the Greenway that links Westport with Achill in Mayo (on the Wild Atlantic Way), the Waterford Greenway runs along the route of a disused railway and provides safe, secure access to some stunning coastal scenery along with regular rest and refreshment stops. Best of all you can easily rent bicycles and cycle all or part of the journey on a relatively flat and smooth surface, easy for even novice cyclists.
This alone make the Denise Greenway a perfect activity for MICE events. It’s both safe and secure but has a touch of challenge to it, particularly for anyone who hasn’t been on a bike for a long time. It’s perfect for corporate team building but also healthy and CSR friendly so it ticks many boxes. The “off the beaten path” feel to it is right on trend too and you don’t have to be an overseas visitor to feel you’re discovering something completely new.
We walked part of the Greenway last week but took a sneaky detour onto Clonea Stand finding ourselves in early January on a deserted beach in bright sunshine, the low winter light illuminating the strand in a thoroughly magical way.
Cliff House Hotel
The Denise Greenway was a perfect stop en route to Ardmore a tiny coastal village close to the border between Waterford and Cork that, in ways, could easily be located on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. Once an important monastic site – the intact 5th century Round Tower is testimony to that – the village of Ardmore is set to one side of a magnificent mile-long sandy beach with handsome period seaside homes clinging to the hillside overlooking the eponymous bay. This is where the Cliff House Hotel is located, a Relais & Chateau property and arguably Ireland’s best boutique hotel.
The Cliff House is all about relaxed escape but food is taken very seriously and the hotel dining room – House – is a multi-awarded, Michelin starred restaurant. As dusk fell on an unseasonably warm late January afternoon looking from the bar terrace across the expanse of Ardmore Bay you could almost have been in Sorrento or Ravello or Positano. The are meeting facilities at the Cliff House too, making it the perfect bolt hole for an unforgettable senior management strategy meeting or Board of Directors’ meeting to include a lunchtime march along the famed cliff walk.
You can reach the Jameson Distillery in Midleton, Co Cork in less than 40 minutes from Ardmore. Midleton has a long tradition in whiskey distilling but in 1975 became the centre for whiskey production Ireland under the aegis of the consolidated Irish Distillers group. In a thoroughly modern distillery it has an annual production capacity of 64 million litres and produces the flagship brand Jameson along with its myriad offshoots and premium editions.
The new facility shares a footprint with the Old Midleton Distillery and that, in turn, has been an important visitor attraction since the early 2000s. MICE visitors can take an intriguing behind the scenes tour, tasting whiskey at various stages of the maturation process and visiting the cooperage where a small team of highly skilled craftsmen work with the ancient oak barrels.
Special arrangements can also be made for private groups to join the Irish Whiskey Academy, an accelerated, total immersion in the A to Z of whiskey. One of the many old buildings on the site has been transformed into a dedicated, contemporary learning facility that seamlessly combines analogue and digital learning methodologies and inducts participants into the art and science of whiskey making.
The blending process, a unique feature of whiskey with an “e”, forms a central part of the academy experience. Surrounded by a vast choice of bottles, each containing single cask whiskey at a different stage of maturation, you make up your own personal blend assisted by the course leader, a master distiller in his own right. In an era where the narratives and mythologies of whiskey are so in vogue amongst the cognoscenti, the Irish Whiskey Academy makes a highly prized incentive for high performing corporate executives.
That’s not all
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for Business Tourism on the south east part of Ireland’s Ancient East. Also in Midleton you have the spectacular Castlemartry Resort that offers glorious parkland golf, the imposing ruins of a majestic Norman castle and over 100 5 star guest rooms and meetings facilities. Nearby you have Ballymaloe House, the Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci of Ireland’s culinary renaissance still a pioneering force today as food takes on a more central role in Ireland’s brand value proposition.
Patrick Delaney, Pádraic Gilligan and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, hotels and venues on strategy, marketing and training for the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events – MICE – industry.