Among the speakers at Ballyhoura region’s tourism industry networking session on Wednesday 20th April were Fiona Dunne of Fáilte Ireland, Tina O’Dwyer, Ireland’s pre-eminent authority on tourism, and Seamus Heaney, who heads up Visit Cork. After a challenging two years for the industry, it was a welcome opportunity for tourism and hospitality providers, both new and established, to meet and foster new relationships and collaborations to improve the tourism offering in the region.
With the pandemic causing unprecedented challenges for the tourist industry, a coming together of the main stakeholders in Ballyhoura was the perfect opportunity to build a strong and confident tourism network, and to once again plan effective campaigns with certainty. It also enabled cross-board networking and engagement with other tourism bodies, agencies and brands such as Fáilte Ireland, Munster Vales, Limerick.ie and Visit Cork, with the overarching message being, 'stronger together'. The presentations were followed by a 'speed networking session', where businesses were able to meet each other and informally discuss what they do in a fun and effective way.
Founder and MD of The Tourism Space, TEDx Speaker, and advocate of sustainable and responsible tourism, Tina O’Dwyer spoke about the benefits of networks and clusters, and how to build a strong and effective tourism destination network. “Ballyhoura has already set a standard in collaborative approaches to tourism that others in Ireland seek to emulate. We look forward to seeing the next level of innovation and creativity from this beautiful region of Ireland.”
Fáilte Ireland’s Fiona Dunne spoke of how the power of collaboration and focused networking to mobilise community tourism success was clearly illustrated through today's exchanges. She also addressed staffing and capacity-building, and gave some marketing tips, including the concept of using the correct messaging to reach visitors. She said, “It was a pleasure and a great learning experience to spend time with the Ballyhoura tourism network.”
Seamus Heaney, head of the Visit Cork brand, highlighted the importance of creativity and ‘thinking outside the box’, as well as leveraging marketing budgets when they are at a minimum. He said, “Ballyhoura is a great collaborator. We're all working very closely together, and we are all working for the benefit of everybody. We need to make sure the customer gets the right message and they get what they want. And that's for all of us working together!”
Acting Tourism Marketing Officer of Munster Vales, Mairead Winters spoke about the importance of promoting, supporting and connecting communities and rural businesses, who offer a wealth of heritage, outdoor and visitor experiences in the region. She emphasised how vital it is that collective communities work together and how it has been such a key part of Munster Vales’ development.
The vision of Ballyhoura Fáilte DAC, the driving force behind all of the Visit Ballyhoura tourism marketing and promotion initiatives, including this networking event, is to establish Ballyhoura as a first-class rural holiday destination for independent and special interest visitors from overseas, as well as independent and leisure visitors from the domestic market, offering access to a range of high-quality recreational activities and an integrated rural heritage experience unrivalled in Ireland. Ballyhoura has traditionally been an agricultural area, but, since it first emerged as a tourist destination in 1986, it has gradually built up a tourism product based on a rural tourism co-operative, offering the visitor an authentic and welcoming rural experience. This is all due to the efforts of Ballyhoura Fáilte DAC, Ireland's first community tourism cooperative.
Ballyhoura Fáilte voluntary board members are representatives of agencies and the wide spectrum of private and community tourism interests; this has been key to its sustainability. The group develops and promotes the Ballyhoura area under the brand of Ballyhoura Country and is inclusive of all registered tourism businesses of North Cork and South and East Limerick, including accommodation, food, recreational and heritage along with community festivals and events. Its main objective is to enhance Ballyhoura Country’s image as a rural tourism destination to benefit and promote local communities.
On foot of the success of the networking event Jana Mannion, Tourism Marketing Officer for Ballyhoura Country said, “Ballyhoura Country has so many opportunities to take advantage of, and by working together, and collaborating not just between ourselves, but also with other tourism brands, agencies, and neighbouring counties, we can create a very strong offering for visitors from all over Ireland and abroad. The proposition of Ballyhoura Country is what visitors are looking for today, and our strength is enhancing our offering by working together."
The range of businesses at the networking event was wide and varied. Attendees included small accommodation providers, country houses, larger hotels, food & hospitality providers (i.e., cafés and restaurants), wellness services providers, tour guides, genealogy services, adventure activity providers as well as the OPW’s Doneraile Court & Gardens and Anne’s Grove Gardens.
With such a great cross-section of the region’s business community present and eager to work together, the future of Ballyhoura Country as a tourist destination seems stronger than ever post-pandemic.