The Wild Atlantic Way opened for business this Spring. It represents Ireland’s first long-distance touring route stretching along our Atlantic coastline all the way from Donegal to West Cork. It’s no cakewalk either.
At 2,500 kilometers it now qualifies as the world’s longest defined coastal touring route and in doing so must aid and abet Fáilte Ireland’s overall aim of developing a long-distance touring route that’ll achieve greater visibility for the west coast of Ireland in overseas tourist markets.
From its northernmost point in to its southernmost, the WAW offers one of the world’s most diverse and spectacular coastlines.
Prospective tourists are advised to immerse themselves in the culture, music and food found in the towns and villages along the way, to climb the most breathtaking heights and “experience a landscape that revives the soul”.
Amongst the goals for the introduction of one of Fáilte Ireland’s ‘signature projects’ to rejuvenate Irish tourism was that of raising visitor numbers, visitor satisfaction, dwell time and tourist spend along all parts of the route.
In effect Fáilte Ireland and Irish Tourism have repackaged the Atlantic seaboard as a destination route to overseas and domestic visitors and Fáilte Ireland has improved linkages between – and added value to – a range of attractions and activities.
The project also resulted in new signage directing visitors to less-visited areas.
Wild Atlantic Pubs
Pubs appear to have benefited to a considerable extent in only its first year of operation.
VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben believes that the effect of the WAW is now being felt by the pub trade in and around the tourist trail.
“The benefits are not as originally thought, three or five years down the road” he says, “but are being manifest very quickly.”
Hugh Farren’s Bar on Malin Head was one of those caught unawares by just how instant the promotion proved to be.
“The first I heard about it was when a couple of Germans came in from the Wild Atlantic Way, telling me that you couldn’t go into a cinema in Germany without seeing ads for the place,” he says, adding, “I’ll be looking for better business signage as there’s a lot more tourists and a lot more cars around this year.”
While he couldn’t put a scale on the increase in business per se, he has noticed increased levels of trade going longer into the Autumn.
“Certainly the amount of people in the area has increased going on the volume of traffic that’s been appearing at the local landmark,” he concludes.
Other publicans along the WAW tell similar stories.
John O’Sullivan of the Munster Bar in Tralee is one of them. John’s bar lies just 100 yards off the Wild Atlantic Way and he’s of the opinion that it has been a fantastic initiative.
“It directs people to areas that heretofore they wouldn’t know about or be enticed to visit,” he says, “It’s particularly appealing to Americans as it brings them to real rural Ireland to savour the atmosphere and they can get the attention here that small pubs and restaurants alone can give that sometimes isn’t there in the larger establishments.”
He believes that the advent of the WAW has been very good for such smaller pubs and businesses along the route.
And it’s made a difference to his business this year.
“I reckon I’m getting 10% more tourism business than I got last year or the year before that,” he says.
Ger Galvin is not on the coast in his Southern Bar in Dunmanway so he’s found the WAW to be of little direct help to his bar business but it’s presence has helped his B&B business as it benefits from tourists following the WAW having set off from there to walk various sections of the WAW, “But it has been a tremendous boost to those along the WAW,” he believes.
Others such as Brian Cooney in Quilty Tavern in Quilty, County Clare, have found the presence of the new tourist attraction to their advantage.
“It’s been beneficial,” he says, “We’ve got a lot of footfall around the area as a result – a lot of good vibes from it.
“It’s had a very positive effect and long may it continue – and if this is what’s it’s like now, then it can only get better.”
Barry O’Brien has The Irish Whip Bar in Ballydehob, County Cork, at the gateway to the WAW.
“The M71 just turns in our village,” he says by way of description, adding, “And the tide comes up to the town.”
He’s certainly noted a difference in footfall as a result of the opening of the new route.
“June was slow this year but July was considerably up and August was very good,” he reports, “September this year was exceptional.”
People are assuredly being drawn to the WAW.
He’s noticed a lot more French and Italian cars around the Mizen Head peninsula’s roads in numbers “which you wouldn’t normally see”.
And the message certainly seems to be getting out there.
He knows of one local who spotted an ad for the WAW on TV while on holiday in France.
“I’d say our takings are probably around 15% up for the four months June, July, August and September,” he reckons, adding that October has been quite good as well this year.
However in order to further capitalise on the business potential, Barry believes that pubs in the vicinity of the WAW need to offer a lot more ‘Trad’ Irish music as many tourists came into his pub looking for it over the last few months.
Imelda Lynch, winner of the Georgina Campbell Guide Pub of the Year reports an improvement in business as a result of the WAW.
“There’s been a great influx of visitors,” she says, “Now it’s all signposted to Loop Head etc people are coming to take that route because it’s so well signposted.. It’s a part of Hidden Ireland and we’re getting quite a few more visitors because of that.”
The Munster Bar’s John O’Sullivan agrees, “It’s a simple concept and the sign-posting is extremely well-done,” he says.
If the aim was to grow the tourism business in the West Coast, it seems to have got off to a flying start with the Wild Atlantic’s publicans.
The agencies behind the WAW
The Wild Atlantic Way came about as a result of dropping visitor numbers to the West Coast and the rural hinterland of Ireland.
Fáilte Ireland received €8 million from the Government to spend on capital infrastructure and community engagement.
Both Fáilte Ireland’s and Tourism Ireland’s focus has been very much on the Wild Atlantic Way since it first entered the pipeline in 2009/10 when the background work of identifying the route, working with the county councils as well as Údras na Gaeltachta and the islanders etc was done.
“We had to check that it was going to be ‘best fit’ for practice from an international perspective as well as a national one” explains Fáilte Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way Client Service Manager Josephine O’Driscoll, “For example would the roads be fit for purpose for Left-Hand Drive cars?”.
Instead of marketing individual spots, it was felt that it would be more productive to do this as one cohesive piece that would resonate in the international marketplace, she says.
It got a ‘soft launch’ back in 2012 at Dublin’s Meitheal, the travel agents and tour operators fair.
Following consultation on the proposed route, feedback was taken in November and December 2012.
“We then worked in conjunction with the county councils in terms of signage while ensuring that those wishing to use the Wild Atlantic Way in their marketing fit the brand guideline,” says Josephine.
Marketing the WAW
The key focus was on five main markets: the US, Canada, France, Germany and the UK.
Tourism Ireland runs advertising in Germany every year but this year the focus was on the Wild Atlantic Way.
Tourism Ireland has placed a major focus on the WAW in its promotions around the world. It’s being promoted across a range of platforms including TV, print and online advertising; on Ireland.com and through social media channels; at major international consumer and trade fairs; through familiarization visits for influential travel agents, tour operators, travel and lifestyle journalists as well as bloggers from around the world and through Tourism Ireland’s promotional material – its market guides and brochures.
It was the main focus on the Tourism Ireland website too.
Approximately €35 million is being spent by Tourism Ireland on promoting the island of Ireland around the world this year which includes a “significant focus” on the WAW – but TI would not break out the spend allocated to the WAW from the total.
Fáilte Ireland’s Josephine O’Driscoll illustrates just how important the WAW is to the Irish tourism drive: “One of our top aims for the Wild Atlantic Way is to have it as one of the top 10 things on people’s ‘Bucket List’,” she says.