Tourism as an industry in Ireland has always been of huge importance to the economy, but since the collapse of the Celtic Tiger its significance has increased more so.
Over 200,000 people work in the industry. Over six million visitors from overseas are attracted annually, contributing €3.5 billion to the Irish economy. A further eight million domestic trips generate €1.25 billion. All told the tourism industry is close to being a €5 billion sector. It is hugely important.
All regions of the country are making great strides to capture their share of the market and in this region we have the South Tipperary Tourism Company to the forefront working harder than anyone. This not-for-profit company is fighting our corner, promoting what has always existed and at the same time trying to come up with new ideas which can add in any way to visitor numbers to Tipperary year-on-year.
An initiative undertaken over the past couple of weeks by South Tipp Tourism was organising two familiarisation trips with the main intention of informing those who operate in, and on the periphery of the industry, just exactly what is available to the visitor locally.
Good to report that both trips on Wednesday, 25th April and Wednesday, 2nd May, went off very well and were enjoyed immensely by all who took the time out.
Everyone came away more informed of not alone the obvious attractions in the area but also of the lesser-known gems scattered about. The intention is, in turn, to pass this knowledge and information on, to make the visit of the tourist more enjoyable and memorable. And perhaps as a consequence grow the tourism footfall in the Premier County into the future.
While all agree that the tourism industry is extremely lucrative as a source of much-needed revenue, it must be recognised also that it is a very challenging and competitive business. In this tourism region we are very fortunate to have South Tipperary Tourism under the chairmanship of Tony Musiol, who gives all his time and expertise on a completely voluntary basis. Tony is assisted by Paula O’Brien, secretary, who organises the day-to-day running of STT, and together they were responsible for the two well-received and very informative familiarisation days.
Of course there are others involved in promoting tourism on a full-time basis in the region. Marie Phelan, public awareness officer, with South Tipperary County Council, is tireless in promoting the industry. Isabel Cambie from South Tipperary Development Company and Eimear Whittle, Failte Ireland, also work closely with the Tourism Company, at each and every opportunity. All were present on Wednesday last to play their part.
South Tipperary Tourism has no income stream per se and does not make any profit. It relies on South Tipperary County Council and the South Tipperary Development Company for funding. And when possible tries to raise funds itself, such as the “Taste of Tipperary” Cookery Demonstration in the Bru Boru tonight (Wednesday, May 9). Promises to be something special if you can make it.
There can be no doubt this part of the country has so much to offer.
There are all the amazing sites we are all so familiar with, the Rock of Cashel, Cahir Castle, Ormond Castle, Swiss Cottage, The Vee, Fethard’s walled town, the Glen of Aherlow, but the real promotion work only begins thereafter. There are the myriad other features and attractions, the industries, the activities, the food, the folklore, angling, walking, sports, agri-tourism, genealogy tourism, rivers and lakes, woods, mountains and, surprisingly to the uninformed, archaeology. It seems not alone have we a job of work to do to inform the visitor coming in to the area, but the locals - people living their everyday lives within the county - have so much to see and learn about their own place.
Indeed the archaeology of the area is mind-blowing. Those of us who went along last week were given an eye-opening introduction by guides on the day, archaeologists Joanne Hughes and Mark Rylands. Castles, tower houses, ring forts, abbeys, bridges, churches, cemeteries, sheila na gigs, monuments, jails, workhouses, ecclesiastical centres, the list is impressive. Mark Rylands described it as “amazing what we actually have on our doorsteps from an archaeolgical point of view.” Indeed the stretch of the county between Cahir and Cashel seems uniquely dense in sites of real significance spanning millennia with ring forts and the like particularly prominent.
Walking is now a big tourist attraction worldwide and here in The Vee and in The Glen of Aherlow local committees are working hard to showcase our natural environment and our exposure in the tourist market. The region is now full of marked-out walks, trails and loops from the Comeraghs, to the Knockmealdowns and over to the Galtees. Indeed the Glen of Aherlow Walking Festival comes up on the June Bank Holiday Weekend and they cater for all levels and would be glad to see you come along.
But everyone is trying to come up with new ideas, and even ideas to stretch the tourist season, to get more people to visit and even stay a little longer. Initiatives include camping at Moorstown and Parsons Green, tracing ancestry roots with the Tipperary Family History Research at the Excel in Tipp Town, paragliding in The Vee, angling, shooting, the Eigse Festival in Newcastle from 29th June to 1st July, the rutting season of the fallow deer in the Knockmealdowns in October/November. All are varied, all uniquely different, but all with the common goal of promoting tourism, bringing others to share in the beauty of South Tipperary and in turn benefiting our local economy.
One of the stops on last week’s trip was to the fabulous Excel Heritage Centre in Tipperary. Charlotte Crowe and Mary Alice O’Connor spoke of the importance of genealogy tourism to the town and how the Excel was fortunate to have the Tipperary Family History Research facility and with it a service to offer based on the records of the Catholic Diocese of Cashel and Emly.
But it was something else said that captured the importance of the work South Tipperary Tourism Company is trying to do. Visitors, it was said, don’t come to Tipperary for the sun or the sea; and when they do come they are usually either on their way to or from Kerry. And they are not teenagers nor those in their twenties, by and large, who visit. No, the profile, it was remarked, is more 40+, people coming to trace roots, see sites of interest, walks, etc. The challenge is to first of all get them to visit and if at all possible hold them for a night or two. In the tough economic market that prevails currently, and in opposition to all the other regions throughout the country competing for the same market, it is a big ask indeed.
Strangely, tourism is an industry in which we are all a part of, all part-time employees in a way, all with a role to play in promoting our own area. As Mark Rylands said “it’s amazing what we actually have on our doorsteps” and we should go and discover it more and pass on the message too.
And perhaps, to finish off, the final verse of a poem ‘The Two Travellers’ written by Tipperary poet C.J. Boland in the 1800s - Did we ever really appreciate the beauty on our own doorstep? ...... Tourism begins at home!
And I’d rather be strolling along the quay,
And watching the river flow,
Than growing tea with the cute Chinese,
Or mining in Mexico.
And I wouldn’t much care for Sierra Leone,
If I hadn’t seen Killenaule,
And the man that was never in Mullinahone
Shouldn’t say he had travelled at all.