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LEADER I and tourism: some examples

Tourism in West Cork: tapping know-how
document type: case study
keywords: tourism, hobbies, professional training, hotels, restaurants, sports
source: LEADER technical dossier
last update:3/95

Holiday-makers in a rush to discover neighbouring Kerry often shorten their stay in West Cork, and its tourist industry is facing stagnation as a result. Aware, however, that tourism is its natural vocation, West Cork is seeking to develop and diversify its infrastructure in order to draw greater numbers of "green" tourists wanting an "active holiday" which is also synonymous with rest.

"I still can't believe it!" exclaims Kieran Calnan; "just two years ago, people barely knew one another; in any event, they were not working together. LEADER was what brought them together". The director of the West Cork local action group, accompanied by members of the management board, are visiting Rachel Boydel, a painter and sculptor, who is applying for LEADER financing to transform an old sheepfold into a resource centre for artists. The spot is completely isolated on the tip of Beara, a wild area practically cut off from the mainland and the extreme south-west point of the LEADER area.

The management board of the West Cork LEADER Co-Operative Society, the local action group, has developed the habit of meeting each time in a different part of the area. It can thus evaluate on the spot the local projects which have been submitted to development agents. After a long discussion with Ms Boydel on the viability of her project, the LEADER team goes to Castletownbere to visit a fish concern which wants to modernise, before moving on to the ruined Dunboy Castle, in connection with the plan to create a youth hostel in its outbuildings.

"We are in the most disadvantaged part of the LEADER area", stipulates Ted Owens, the LEADER head for Beara. "Here, tourism is virtually the only thing which can generate economic activity".

Tourism is already a key sector for the West Cork region. It generates 8.4% of revenue compared with 11.1% for agriculture. An estimated 2,000 jobs are linked to tourism for the county overall (*). Moreover, 70% of LEADER financing applications relate to rural tourism projects. The group has nearly exhausted the resources earmarked in its business plan for this sector.

Boosting tourist numbers

The tourism industry in West Cork dates back around thirty years. Accommodation availability is not a problem: there are houses or apartments for rent, guesthouses and bed & breakfasts in abundance and offering high quality. The region is well known to a privileged few.

However, it is not visited enough by green tourism enthusiasts, mainly young people, or by "woopies" (well-off older people).

It is near two major Irish ports of entry - Rosslare and Cork - and many tourists from Great Britain or the continent pass through it... but fail to stop. This is the primary challenge facing West Cork: how to "capture" some of the 376,000 people (1991 estimates) visiting Ireland who head mainly for neighbouring Kerry, with Killarney (a centre very popular with the Americans) and a highly reputed green area, the Ring of Kerry, where tourism is much more developed.

Growing awareness

"Here people have just become aware of the vital importance of tourism as a motor of economic development", declares Kieran Calnan. "Until very recently, tourism was seen by local people as a marginal activity, a matter for the hotel operators... There was no real strategy either, no consultation between local authorities and the tourist industry. The constitution of the local action group created the necessary consultation. Now, and following our study conducted thanks to LEADER I (*), everyone has understood that tourism is a major lever of local development, if not the last hope".

Buoyed up by this growing awareness and by the well-anchored tradition of associations in Ireland, the West Cork LEADER Co-Operative created a Tourism Forum grouping local authorities, hotel owners, tourism professionals, associations and individuals. This committee has appointed one person full time with responsibility for marketing.


But Ireland has a big problem: rain. All of the people questioned openly admitted this: "if we want to keep our guests, we must entertain them, regardless of whether it is raining or windy; we must find inside activities to keep tourists occupied when the weather is bad." This is no easy task in a country where, for example, few localities have an indoor swimming pool. The rain is unfortunately an impediment to the development of family holidays. This is all the more frustrating because Ireland, with its friendly people, has everything needed to capture the hearts of parents and children: a warm welcome, relatively cheap accommodation, an intact country lifestyle, water sports, biking holidays, walks, horse-riding, pony-trekking and so on. It is not surprising then that LEADER is financing projects for the interior fitting-out of existing tourism facilities: conference and tasting room, small cafés, playrooms, etc. which can keep visitors amused until the re-appearance of the sun.

Action holidays

The other challenge facing West Cork is the development of leisure activities, for although the supply of accommodation is sufficient, the region suffers from a lack of infrastructure for varied action holidays. "It is said that holidays in West Cork are Thinking Man's Holidays", comments Geraldine O'Sullivan, LEADER tourism development officer. "This apparently flattering slogan is in fact an image which we must shake off: the holiday homes of the "thinking men" are only occupied for two or three weeks a year and only generate a very low level of economic activity. The impact on local employment is near zero. We must attract and retain a different and much broader clientele. This part of Ireland may be romantic and ideally suited to rest and meditation, but it is also suitable for more active holidays".

The priority of the LEADER group's tourism strategy, therefore, is to develop the range of "action holidays" on offer. The group has drawn up a list and is beginning to signpost the numerous footpaths in the area. Considerable LEADER funds are already committed to leisure enterprises: riding, diving, canoeing-kayaking centres, golf driving ranges, educational farms, etc. Efforts are focused on improving the facilities (refurbishment of rest rooms and changing rooms) and services to users (beginners classes, guides, interpretation activities).

Leisure activities, while retaining visitors in the area, will also benefit sectors not directly involved in tourism: several small cheese factories, a herb farm, dairies, fish concerns and so on are begin to prepare for visitors.


Again with the aim of stimulating the range of possibilities for tourists, the LEADER group runs specific training courses.

The idea is to train specialised guides (history, marine archaeology, etc.) and to help suppliers of tourist services to raise the quality of their product offer (for example, riding centres are going to create classes for beginners; a cultural input could be given to riding paths).

Three-star accommodation

Tourism promoters are turning their attention to thalassatherapy, aware that top range tourism generates the greatest amount of added value for rural areas. Negotiations are under way with a French hotel chain for the purchase of a huge estate near Clonakilty, in the heart of the area. Charles Cullinane, representative of West Cork tourism businesses on the LEADER group management board, casts a favourable eye on the project. In addition to the actions financed by LEADER, he would like to see the establishment of a three-star hotel in the region with a health and fitness service. "We must be realistic", he declared. "If the region is going to change its image, rural tourism also needs weighty projects, provided that these are controlled and respect local ecology and culture".

By the end of the sixties, Ireland had carved itself a consistent and practically avant-garde image for its tourist industry. But green tourism has moved on from the country which was practically its creator. Other regions, closer to the major markets, are rapidly developing it. Green Erin, following in the footsteps of West Cork, must now also bow to the requirements of competition and adapt its know-how to an ever more demanding market.

(*) "Tourism in West Cork, a Strategy for Growth", October 1992. Available from the LEADER group.

Tourism in West Cork (1991 estimates)

Total number of visitors: 376 000

Country of origin:
  • Ireland and Northern Ireland 165 000 (44%)
  • Continental Europe 150 000 (40%)
  • Great Britain 45 000 (12%)
  • North America 12 000 (3%)
  • other countries 4 000 (1%)

Direct tourist expenditure
  • foreign tourists: 29 million ECU
  • Irish tourists: 10 million ECU

Spending breakdown:
  • lodging and board: 23%
  • other food and bev.: 35%
  • entertainment: 5%
  • transport: 16%
  • shopping: 21%

Stock of tourist accommodation (rooms, units or pitches approved by the Irish tourism office, Bord Failte):

  • hotels: 576
  • camping/caravanning: 490
  • bed & breakfasts: 392
  • houses for rent: 291
  • farmhouses: 172
  • guesthouses: 84
  • youth hostels: 78

Number of tourism related jobs: 1 780

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