Failte Ireland has not yet allocated any funds to developing the “Lakelands” tourism brand, despite a promise in the programme for government to promote the area in a similar manner to the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East.
The tourism development authority is not even planning to set aside any capital funding for a specific promotion campaign, saying it is engaged in “an ongoing review of the tourism offered in the area”.
Failte Ireland will invest more than €55m in its leisure and business tourism brands this year. This will include spending in excess of €9m to promote the Ireland’s Ancient East brand, €7m on the Wild Atlantic Way brand and €7m to market Dublin.
The region of the Lakelands has been defined by Failte Ireland as “the area immediately to the west of the Shannon extending from Leitrim and Roscommon in the north, to Limerick and North Cork in the south”.
It is categorised as an “emerging tourism destination” in contrast to the more developed product along the west and east coasts.
Failte Ireland says marketing and promotion of the Lakelands district will still happen, but it will be paid for out of the budgets for the Wild Atlantic Way and Ancient East.
Seán Canney, an Independent Alliance TD for Galway East, wrote to Failte Ireland earlier this month to express his disappointment with how the area had been marketed. In its reply, the authority said: “Despite substantial investments in tourism product over the years, the Lakelands has not developed in tourism terms in line with our expectations.”
Canney contests this claim, and maintains the area’s attractions have been unjustly overlooked. “Portumna Castle, Tuam and the river Shannon are beautiful areas that are not being promoted. We cannot think of the Lakelands area as being on the way to popular destinations,” he said.
Some local business owners have taken their own initiatives to pro mote the Lakelands area in recent years. Feargal O’Donnell, owner of the Fatted Calf restaurant in Athlone, believes the Failte Ireland marketing campaign concentrating on coastal cities has deterred visitors from the midlands.
“It still feels a bit like a doughnut; everything is on the outside and the middle is empty,” O’Donnell said.
“The injection into the Wild Atlantic Way has actually pulled tourists away from the midlands because it made the area simply a pit stop from A to B. We have one of the world’s biggest inflatable water slides at Baysports Hodson Bay, great boat rental facilities, and amazing restaurants.
“Many business owners have committed their own funds to a local campaign called Destination Athlone.”
Failte Ireland and Waterways Ireland do support the Destination Athlone initiative, which was created by local business owners in 2013.
O’Donnell regards the lack of infrastructure in the Lakelands area as more of a concern than the shortfall in marketing. “There are not a sufficient amount of facilities nearby to encourage people to stick around and have a meal, or spend the night. The whole area goes quiet,” he said.
Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, wants to see Failte Ireland “share the love” with the rest of the country. “Dublin is booming as a tourist destination. It beggars belief why we are injecting more money into a ‘new Dublin’ brand when there are a staggering amount of businesses closing up shop around the Shannon,” he said.
“There was an opportunity to develop the area, like the lake region in the UK, but that has yet to happen.”
Last week Tourism Ireland, which is responsible for marketing overseas, announced it was teaming up with Flybe and Knock airport to encourage UK visitors to the west. A joint campaign is being run in Britain in August and September, and will include advertisements for “one of the most enchanting and culturally rich routes in the world”.
Failte Ireland says it will “shortly be seeking tenders from qualified parties to undertake a root and branch review of the tourism offering in the area”. The review is not expected to be completed until 2017, and no specific funding will be allocated for the Lakelands district until then.
A “new Dublin” brand was launched in October 2015 with a tagline “Dublin, a breath of fresh air”. This was supported by a €1m marketing campaign last year.