I was never cut out for the advertising or marketing world. Even today, when entering competitions, I’m stumped when it comes to the slogan tie-breaker. I mull and labour over every word and phrase, knowing in my heart that it will never bring a smile to a judging panel!
So I’m always in awe of those creative minds who come up with the catchphrases and strategies that capture the public’s imagination – and of course the simpler the better – the ones that immediately make you think – sure anyone could have thought of that!!!
Tourism in Ireland is a hugely important economic sector. It wasn’t always so – the country has really only become a significant destination in relatively recent times. Because of our long tradition of emigration, most visitors tended to come from the UK and US – meeting up with relatives or revisiting their roots – along with a smaller market of northern Europeans.
The 1960’s and 1970’s charter holiday boom passed us by – we just didn’t have the weather for mass tourism. The Troubles in the North would become a disruptive factor in keeping potential tourists away.
The advance of budget airlines in the 1980’s eventually allowed for more accessibility. Air fares reduced and new routes appeared. Peace in Northern Ireland would also bring obvious benefits. Tourism was targeted as a key development in the growth of the Irish economy – we didn’t have the sun – but we had the landscape and the hospitality and that’s what we would work with!!
Tourism Ireland (the body responsible for marketing the island of Ireland overseas) has done a great job in drawing visitors away from the obvious hotspots and the industry has boomed – employing more than 300,000 people and recording 11 million tourists in 2019 – ranking us 23rd in the world in absolute terms.
Well and good. But how do you get visitors to return? And how do you get them away from the capital and a few favoured destinations in the west?
You create Themed Routes!
Themed Routes make sense when trying to increase the appeal of a particular region – by tying together several attractions that wouldn’t have the potential to attract visitors or their own. Successful promotion will attract more people, get them to stay longer and hopefully bring them back.
And this is where BRANDING comes in.
Ireland already has a great brand of course – just look at the global phenomenon that is St. Patrick’s Day!!
But within the country, we needed something to generate regional tourism and disperse the income away from Dublin, Kerry and Galway.
And, in 2014, Fáilte Ireland – the Tourism Board – came up with the
WILD ATLANTIC WAY
Such a simple idea! A defined route passing through 9 counties along Ireland’s west coast. And so EASY!!! The 2500kms of road are already in place! There are hotels and restaurants already in situ!! Just need a catchy title and a few ( well – a lot!) of new road signs and its done!!!
And what a route!
Of course it’s not all about driving and the Atlantic! … every aspect of Irish culture is promoted here – language, music and dance, sport, crafts, island life, legend and folklore. Imagine all the towns and villages along the way pitching their attractions to lure you out of your car – maybe an incredible surfing location, a megalithic tomb, or just that idyllic looking pub!!
Over 500 Visitor Attractions
More than 1,500 activities
580 festivals and events throughout the year
50 looped walks
53 Blue Flag beaches
120 Golf Courses.
Not a bad tally!
The LOGO is simple, distinctive – and you can’t miss it.
The zig zag line resembles a road – the constantly changing direction is truly representative of the route!! It also resembles the initials WAW. Of course the blue probably represents the ocean so the pattern could also be waves….
Local attractions have bought in to the branding and include it on their signage….
DISCOVERY POINTS are included along the route – places where you can pull off the road and learn more about the area you’re passing through….
But what of the other 17 counties! They could only watch and weep!!!
Following the launch and success of the Wild Atlantic Way, Fáilte Ireland turned towards the rest of the country. A follow up act was going to be tricky. The ocean and the wildness was already done – another angle was needed!
IRELAND’S ANCIENT EAST
This was never going to be an easy sell – our highly esteemed travel writer Pól Ó Conghaile described it as that difficult second album!! Sounding rather contrived – it came across as someone trying too hard to complete with the west.
Covering pretty much everything east of the River Shannon, the ‘EAST’ part was a bit of a stretch to say the least!
Beyond that first wave of cynicism, a deeper look reveals a very clever plan indeed. This is a landscape rich in ancient monuments, settlements and stories. Often viewed merely as a transit zone linking Dublin with the west, there was a heavy dependence on the domestic market – the new brand would draw international attention towards the history and heritage of the region. There would be no designated route – rather a collection of themes showcasing 5000 years of history.
And what a history! Stone Age, Early Christian, Viking, Norman – sure the landscape is littered with prehistoric tombs, Norman castles and Monastic sites! Brú na Bóinne alone offers 50 ancient monuments- including Newgrange, a 5,000 years old passage tomb and UNESCO World Heritage Site that predates the Pyramids of Giza. It will take a lifetime – not a vacation – to experience it all!!
Maritime heritage on this side of the island is not ignored – its 500kms of coastline includes fabulous beaches and cliff walks. Hook Head Lighthouse claims be be the oldest operational lighthouse in the world! Cobh was the last port of call for RMS Titanic and the Heritage Centre will take you back to 1912….
I particularly like the signage at key attractions – it cleverly draws attention to other ‘must see’s ‘ in the area.
As with the Wild Atlantic Way, local attractions have bought into the Ancient East Brand…..
So another major brand is launched and the powers that be hope that it will some day reach the dizzy heights of the Wild Atlantic Way! But there’s still part of the country unattended – a tricky Midlands region, desperately in need of a tourism boost. Well, the west has the wild rugged beauty angle all sewn up, and the east has cornered the history market – so what’s left? How can this relatively neglected region be branded?
Looking at what was available – waterways, (including the Shannon, Ireland’s longest river), lakes stocked with fish, rolling fields, boglands and rural communities….
That’s it!!!! Let’s go SLOW!
IRELAND’S HIDDEN HEARTLANDS
Launched in 2018, the Hidden Heartlands pretty much cover the area around the river Shannon – ignoring county lines as such so local enterprises can buy in to either this brand or the Ancient East – or both I suppose!! The new brand was about ‘soft’ activities – getting off the beaten track and reengaging with nature. So the emphasis was on walking, cycling, fishing, boating and food.
Showcasing canal paths, candlelit dinners, unexplored trails, rural villages, mindfulness and silence, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the rest of the country was a hellhole of motorway, concrete urban sprawl and stress-filled natives! Well if your soul needs calming – maybe after driving the full Atlantic Way and visiting everything the Ancient East has to offer (all in a two week vacation!!) – then THIS is THE place for you!!
Of course, apart from being a natural wonderland, there’s still plenty of history to be unearthed so between the walks, river cruises and fishing, you can still pack in the heritage parks, historic abbeys and monasteries. And thankfully, there’s always a pub in which to let your hair down at the end of a tranquil day!
The logo is as you’d expect – forest, water, very calming….
One region not included in the new branding is Dublin. Although geographically situated in the Ancient East, it has been excluded from the promotion. Tourism Ireland brands Dublin city and county separately – I suppose capital cities generally do ok visitor wise anyway…..
Tourism Ireland was actually established under the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 to promote the whole island of Ireland overseas. It is jointly funded by the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive on a two-to-one ratio.
The six counties that make up Northern Ireland have their own Tourist Board. Tourism Northern Ireland has deservedly enjoyed great success in getting people to Belfast and beyond. Success stories like the Titanic Experience and Game of Thrones filming locations are drawing the crowds and of course there are the traditional attractions – Giant’s Causeway, Derry Walls, Bushmills….
Exhausting isn’t it!!! The island as a whole ranks 113th in size (out of 195 countries) – It looks like you could ‘do it’ over a long weekend!!! But now you know to ignore those blogs with their Wild Atlantic Way in 5 Days itineraries! Can it be done? Of course it can – do the math -2500km over 5 days is a mere 500km / 300 miles per day. Which is fine – if you want to spend the whole time driving with no deviations at all….
No – Ireland needs to be relished. Come once for a look – and I guarantee you’ll come back again… and again…. and again!!
Before you go…..
Here are a few of my Ireland Blogs to whet the appetite!
(Blank maps- curtesy Wikimedia)