Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Ceisteanna (9)

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

9. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the steps he has taken in the past year and his future plans to promote areas such as the Lee Valley as being near the Wild Atlantic Way; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15161/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

The Lee Valley has tremendous tourism potential and represents a product that could be developed and put out before a huge audience. The valley runs from the global brand name, Blarney Castle, up to the Gearagh and on to Gougane Barra, immediately adjacent to the Wild Atlantic Way. A slí na saoirse, or freedom trail, could be developed to attract people from the cruise liners that bring thousands of people into Cork Harbour. I would like the Minister of State to look at how we can get that moving and how the machinery of the State can be brought together to promote the Lee Valley and wider area to give the place the opportunity to develop its tourism potential.

I thank Deputy Aindrias Moynihan for raising this issue. I absolutely agree with him that there is huge potential in that part of Cork. It is a very beautiful and interesting part of the county which has a rich built heritage, a rich history and a rich culture. There is enormous potential in the area, which fits in very well with the experiences we are rolling out such as the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland's Ancient East.

As the Deputy is probably aware, the tourism agencies of Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland have operational responsibility for the development and promotion, both domestic and overseas, of regions such as the Lee Valley.

As part of this, Fáilte Ireland is engaging in a programme to extend the concept of the Wild Atlantic Way to the wider region, as distinct from the Wild Atlantic Way route. This encompasses areas that are not on the Wild Atlantic Way route but that are part of the wider hinterland. The main growth opportunity for these areas is to attract the visitor already coming from or going to the Wild Atlantic Way.  The Lee Valley has been designated part of the Wild Atlantic Way region and is included in all of Fáilte Ireland's development, promotional and business-support activities. The agency will be working with businesses on the ground and hosting a number of workshops in the area.  At these workshops it will explain how opportunities can be maximised and how to make the most of the Wild Atlantic Way region brand.

Fáilte Ireland is also currently reviewing their itineraries on the Wild Atlantic Way website.  It will be working with tourism businesses in the Wild Atlantic Way region to showcase experiences on the new Wild Atlantic Way website later this year to create an awareness of these experiences and grow visitor numbers to the area.

Furthermore, I understand that Tourism Ireland is working with Cork Airport and tourism industry partners to highlight Cork as a stand-alone destination and also as a gateway to both the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland's Ancient East. In this context, Tourism Ireland recommends that tourism businesses from the Lee Valley register on the industry opportunities website for a range of opportunities to promote their businesses across the world. For more detail, I have asked both tourism agencies to provide the Deputy with further information on their work in the Lee Valley area.  Both Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland will contact the Deputy directly in that regard.

Later this evening I will be attending the Meitheal exhibition in west Dublin. This is Fáilte Ireland's biggest event this year, at which it will be showcasing all parts of the country to people from 22 different countries. Next week I will be in North America with Tourism Ireland, leading a major trade mission aimed at continuing to grow the number of visitors from North America.

A referred reply was forwarded to the Deputy under Standing Order 42A.

There was quite a bit of information in the Minister of State's response. The different workshops being offered by Fáilte Ireland are very much focused on beds and on the availability of accommodation as distinct from promoting the product and the area. Indeed, the advertising for the workshops held over the last year was - we will be generous - very focused. Not many people actually got to see the advertisement and have the opportunity to attend. While the plans sound great, they are not being translated into action in the way the Minister of State indicated. Will he outline the detail of the promotion of the region or the timeline of when it will take place? There is great urgency in the Macroom and wider Lee Valley area. The development of the new bypass will mean that east-west traffic will move faster through the area. We want to ensure that there is a real opportunity to grow the area's tourism potential.

The key aspect is engagement. There needs to a collaborative approach between industry, local communities, Fáilte Ireland, Tourism Ireland and Cork County Council. In recent years, there has been a devolution of authority in respect of tourism development to local authorities. That is very welcome because the ground-up approach is very important and preferable to the national agencies being responsible for everything. I have seen some really positive developments all over the country in that regard.

I draw to the Deputy's attention a scheme that was launched last week. It is aimed at creating destination towns. The concept is to get people to stay longer and spend more in areas that have not traditionally been considered locations for tourism and in which people have not traditionally tended to seek accommodation. The point of this is to develop authentic and off-the-beaten-path experiences. This scheme would suit the Lee Valley area very well and I encourage the Deputy to liaise with Cork County Council, which has a responsibility to apply to that scheme in respect of potential candidate towns. That is one avenue.

When Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland get in contact with the Deputy as a result of today's discussion, I advise him to ensure that there is ongoing collaboration. In my experience, one builds a product through constant collaboration and co-operation between agencies and all stakeholders. The Wild Atlantic Way is only a couple of years old and, as such, is only a fledgling experience. These initiatives take time to build up, but it is worth building solid foundations for them and working at them.

I am in contact with the various tourism organisations. We have great potential and a great offering, but the focus seems to be on beds as distinct from the experience, the offering and the promotion of same. There is an urgency, as we want to develop the area and not miss out on the opportunity just because traffic is passing by on the bypass.

I acknowledge the new scheme, which sounds positive, especially for smaller counties. Two towns will be able to gain. In a county the size of Cork, however, the scheme will be more diluted. Could there be a further focus on, and additional funding for, larger counties so that they can at least have an equal opportunity?

It is for Fáilte Ireland to make that call, but I would be happy to refer the matter to it. I do not doubt that great work is already under way on the ground in the Lee Valley. We are constantly learning from one another and best practice. In my county, for example, the Reeks district is a new and up and coming brand that has made great progress in recent years. It would be helpful to examine what people there are doing and the model they have applied. Munster Vales to the Deputy's east has done brilliant work in recent years. This is the type of experience and brand from which other areas can learn and, in turn, they can learn from what is happening in the Lee Valley. There are strengths, weaknesses and opportunities in each area.

The destination towns scheme is not the only avenue of Fáilte Ireland or departmental funding. We have a greenway fund and numerous other capital funds are available through Fáilte Ireland. I advise the Deputy to be constantly aware of the types of funding available across the whole of government. For example, rural regeneration funding and other Department of Rural and Community Development funding can be helpful for developing tourism products.