By Noel Dundon
A blueprint for the development of a potential annual tourism windfall for North Tipperary has been unveiled by County Manager Mr Joe MacGrath with a real determination on the part of North Tipperary County Council to ensure a larger slice of the tourism cake comes to the region.
The move comes in response to calls from members of the council for a co-ordinated approach to tourism and will be backed by the local authority with a dedicated department to be created under the portfolio of Director of Services Mr Matt Shortt.
And, one of the first ports of call for the new initiative will be to ensure that North Tipperary can make the most of US President Barack Obama’s visit to his ancestral home in Moneygall, with the hope that he will also visit some of the major tourism attractions in the county as well.
Mr MacGrath’s comprehensive report to the council was very well received and pointed out that a lot of work is being done by various bodies with responsibility for tourism. However, bringing all the groups together and packaging North Tipperary in a meaningful and attractive manner will be the big challenge – a fact acknowledged by Mr MacGrath and pubic representatives who contributed to a lengthy debate on the matter at the monthly meeting of the council this week – Cllr Virginia O’Dowd had a Notice of Motion in a similar vein also before the council for discussion.
“This Tourism blueprint, in addition to setting out a roadmap, will affirm our unique selling points to visitors. The single biggest asset to the County is the “Tipperary” brand. Tipperary is a well known and recognised brand name both nationally and internationally through the county’s strong associations overseas, our sporting and cultural traditions, and product marketing. However, the division of the County into separate regions for tourism purposes does present challenges to the marketing of the county as a single brand. The “Tipperary” brand must be harnessed more and this can be achieved through enhanced collaboration between the agencies in the County supported by the Regional Tourism Organisations,” said Mr MacGrath.
While tourism in the Shannon region generated 1.7 million visitors and €391 million, North Tipperary’s slice of the cake amounts to just 42,000 visitors and €21 million. And, with tourist figures nationally starting to climb in the last quarter of 2010 for the first time in three years, the urgency is to ensure that the county is in a position to take advantage of Ireland now being viewed as a good value, cost competitive, holiday destination.
“We need to focus on our comparative advantages - our strong sporting and cultural heritage – Thurles, the location where the GAA, our largest voluntary sporting organisation was founded; golfing, walking, food, music etc. There is potential to grow sports tourism. North Tipperary can provide visitors with an authentic Irish experience,” Mr MacGrath said.
A new website, www.tipperary.com is being developed to provide a single point of contact on all tourism and business-related information in Tipperary and there are also moves afoot to provide a cycle lane all along the old main Nenagh – Limerick roadway as part of the growing cycling tourism industry.
“The overarching objective for the promotion and development of tourism must be to seek to obtain a year on year incremental growth in visitor numbers and to increase our percentage share of both visitor numbers and revenue in the region, which are currently estimated at 5% and 8% respectively. Bearing in mind that we are starting from a very low base in terms of products, attractions, visitor numbers and awareness, targets must be both realistic and achievable. A 1% to 2% growth may appear modest but if sustained over a ten year period would amount to unprecedented growth in the tourism industry in the county. There are a number of opportunities to be grasped and challenges to be addressed if this target is to be realised.
The resolution to some of the challenges will require national or regional interventions, but others are entirely within our own control. In recognising the valuable work being done by the various Tourism Agencies and organisations in the County in developing action plans and programmes, the preparation of a strategic blueprint for the long term development of visitor numbers to North Tipperary is an essential pre-requisite to achieving our growth targets. The adoption of such a plan, in addition to harnessing our collective efforts behind agreed actions, also serves as a strong statement that North Tipperary is open for tourism business. A Tourism Strategy, with specific targets and objectives, which has the backing and active support of all those involved in the tourism sector is also more likely to assure success in attracting external investment for visitor attractions and products,” Mr MacGrath said.
Three priorities have been established. These include the preparation of a Strategic Blueprint for the future development of Tourism in North Tipperary, to be completed no later than the end of this year; working in close collaboration with the Tourism Agencies and Organisations, the development of products including product identification, creation of a database of product providers, integration of various products based on geographic packages and activity packages and promotion/marketing of the product.
In practice this person will ensure that there is a planned approach to the work, identifying specific projects to progress and setting targets and timeframes so as to ensure that focus is not lost as new ideas and suggestions are brought forward. Within the first year a limited number of specific initiatives will be selected with a view to having positive progress made. Two initiatives be selected– one to focus on a particular geographical area and one to focus on a particular product (e.g. sport, food); investment sourcing to support both the key objectives of the Tourism Strategy and development of Visitor Attractions.
The report was broadly welcomed by members.