It was a frosty morning as Marc and I set out on the road to Kerry. Following a late night at Harvey’s Point, we were tired and a little nervous about the road conditions. It didn’t sound promising when a sign lit up on the dashboard that there wasn’t enough pressure in the tyres. In freezing fog with sprinklings of drizzle, the windscreen became dirty when the washer fluid had frozen. More than once, we considered turning back home but we kept going and in fact we made good progress until we reached Adare, where traffic went from a crawl to a standstill and back to a crawl for a full hour. At this stage, I was sure we would be late for my afternoon slot at the conference. Finally we arrived to the warmest of welcomes from Chris, the Head Concierge of Muckross Park Hotel. First impressions were very positive as this young gentleman, in an impeccable uniform, escorted us to our suite. And what a suite! A beautifully draped four-poster bed with separate lounge area and a carpet so plush that I would happily have snuggled down for a sleep on it, there and then.
Following a quick change and freshen up, I had a glance at the questions that were possibly going to be posed to the panel during the discussion on rural tourism. A degree of panic set in as I realized that I hadn’t had time to research the topic in detail. Before going on stage, I had a quick chat with my good friend and advisor on all things tourism, Frank Corr and he was most helpful. As it happens, Miriam was a great MC and I could speak from the heart rather than try to remember facts and figures. Joe Dolan, president of the IHF delivered an excellent speech in relation to rural tourism and the many challenges as well as opportunities that exist, particularly in counties that have traditionally less market share than others. It is noteworthy that only five counties in Ireland get 79% of tourist bed nights. Joe made reference to the term ‘ reasonality’ – seasonality and regionality. Other issues mentioned were access, lack of sufficient funding for marketing and staff training. It was widely recognized that while the industry needs strong support from the government and state agencies, the driving force needs to come from within the industry with active engagement among all stakeholders.
Christmas In Killarney
The conference concluded and it was time to put on coats, scarves and hats and hop on the shuttle-bus to town to see the Christmas parade. That warm and fuzzy Christmas feeling washed over me as I saw the streets decked out with an abundance of lights and decorations, turning Killarney into a winter wonderland filled with Christmas spirit. We watched the Magic Parade from the Window Lounge of the Killarney Plaza and that warm and fuzzy feeling became warmer and fuzzier after a few glasses of mulled wine!
Back to The Brehon for an amazing four course dinner served with style and a great sense of fun and celebration. The food was delicious as was the attention to detail throughout dinner. Very impressive. And yes, Marc and I did take a few mental notes!
Dingle For The Day
Following a good night’s sleep, it was time to be a tourist and thanks to the organizing committee of the forum, we enjoyed a delightful day in Dingle. The weather was a bit dull at the start, but as we drove along one of the many hairpins on the road, just around the corner, the sun made a spectacular appearance and remained with us for the rest of the day. Gary, our guide gave us a great insight into how Dingle has developed rural and food tourism over the past ten years and how it is booming as a result. It is their goal to spread tourism around the entire peninsula as an all year round tourist destination.
Art On The Edge
We visited the famous Louis Mulcahy Pottery workshop, showroom and café. This success story is a fine example of the prosperity it has brought to the local community. Louis Mulcahy’s work is distinctively Irish and reflects the dramatic coastline and wonderful colours of the landscape of West Kerry. There is something unique about the taste of tea from a Louis Mulcahy mug, not to mention the warm apple and cinnamon scones.
Next stop ‘Dingle Distillery’. What an amazing experience to be shown every step of the process of distilling. In a brave move, given the large investment in money and time, Dingle Distillery has rekindled the tradition of independent distilling in Ireland. We all had a taste of the fruits of their labour in the form of the hand-crafted Dingle Original Gin and the recently launched Dingle Single Malt. Joe Joyce, our cheerful and highly knowledgeable guide, advised us to stick our head over the bubbling brew of whiskey mash and the powerful whiff nearly blew my socks off! We finished our day trip with a lovely lunch in the Dingle Skellig hotel. Chairman of Blas na h’Eireann, Artie Clifford delivered a speech on the rise and rise of the popularity of the Irish Food Awards and Dingle Food Festival. John Mc Kenna of the prestigious John and Sally McKennas’ Guides spoke of the importance of food and drink in our culture and communities. “Food is the new Rock & Roll”, he told us. There was no sign of Fungie but there were many signs that Dingle remains firmly on the map as a much loved and respected tourist destination.
The Annual Kerry Hotelier’s Ball
We arrived back at Muckross Park Hotel to what looked like a scene from the Cannes Film Festival Christmas Party (if they have one). Red carpet, elegant evening gowns, dress suits and bow-ties, cameras flashing, the scent of mulled wine, the sound of Christmas carols and of course Santa himself posing for photos with everyone. It promised to be a ‘good good night’ and indeed it was!
We are all truly passionate about tourism and as an industry, it can be sometimes quite fragmented, due in part to competition and a perceived fear of sharing information, coupled with everyone having to focus on their own businesses. We have not always been good at coming together to discuss the future direction of tourism and national tourism policy. Many tend to leave this to the state agencies. This forum is an attempt to open the lines of communication at every level and give everyone a voice. It’s time to collaborate and find solutions together. The ‘Lets talk tourism’ forum is certainly the right step in the right direction. Congratulations to our friends in Kerry for leading the way. Come on Donegal!