Sunday 19 November 2017

leading hotelier says better accessibility key to region's growth

By David Tucker

WEXFORD is to get a modest €80,000 out of a €1.2 million government pot for the first phases of capital projects in 'Ireland's Ancient East', the south east's answer to the highly successful Wild Atlantic Way.

The development of tourism in this region and the upscaling of the Ancient East title is a major plank of the newly-announced regional strategy for the South East which aims to create 25,000 jobs over the next few years in a part of the country that is lagging behind many others in terms of wealth and jobs creation.

One of Wexford's best-known hoteliers Bill Kelly, from Kelly's Hotel, in Rosslare, said he believed the growth numbers were achievable, but only if there was proper access in terms of the price of airline and ferry tickets, the frequency of services and suitable airports and ports.

'We need to open up the markets to competition in terms of regional air space and make it very affordable, there are no bridges coming to Ireland.'

'I do believe the figures are achievable, but only if we have the right access. There's no point in providing the facility if you don't have the means to get here,' he said.

Mr Kelly said that while the regional initiative was 'wonderful and important' he didn't see it gaining as much traction as the Wild Atlantic Way.

'So far the only Wexford initiative is the Hook, so we're not really getting much of a look in County Wexford, which is steeped in history,' he said.

Minister Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton Bruton said jobs are growing right across the country, but they are growing faster in some regions than in others.

'That is why we have put in place the €250 million regional jobs strategy, to support regions to play to their strengths and accelerate jobs growth in every area.

'The South East is a region which has faced major historic unemployment problems, but which in the past three years has started to really bounce back and now has the fastest rate of jobs growth of all of the eight regions in the country.'

The Hook Lighthouse Guided Tour Experience is the only county project to benefit from the funding in the list of the initial 12 to benefit under Ireland's Ancient East initiative. It is expected, however, that projects in every county within Ireland's Ancient East will be supported through the scheme over the coming months.

As well as the capital funding, Minister of State for Tourism, Michael Ring said there would be an additional €600,000 for the first stage of branded signage for all counties within the region, while the Hook may be one the best sign posted tourism sites already operating in nthe county, there will be plenty of new signs telling us it's part of Ireland's Ancient East.

The €1.2 million capital funding is the first phase of investment through Fáilte Ireland's 'New ideas in Ancient Spaces' Capital Grants Scheme.

This first phase of funding under the 'New ideas in Ancient Spaces' Capital Grants Scheme follows a Fáilte Ireland call for applications from interested parties across the region.

Fáilte Ireland said it is currently assessing a number of further applications from that call and will be announcing another round of funding before the end of the year.

Launched last April, Ireland's Ancient East is Fáilte Ireland's latest tourism initiative and aims to build on the wealth of historical and cultural assets in the east and south of Ireland, and follows the success of the Wild Atlantic Way.

Minister Paul Kehoe said everyone was aware of the impact that the Wild Atlantic Way has had in attracting visitors to the west coast and in marketing the Atlantic coastline to an international audience.

'Ireland's Ancient East will highlight the cultural and historical riches that we have on our doorsteps to a much wider audience,' he said.

The new initiative seeks to give visitors a personal experience of 5,000 years of Irish history through a journey of discovery stretching from Carlingford to Cork and beyond to Wexford and is intended to match and complement the Wild Atlantic Way in terms of scale and ambition.

'This funding is just the first phase in a programme to animate the great amount of history and heritage in 'Ireland's Ancient East' and allow us to build on the tourism assets we have in the east and south of the country,' said the minister.

'With tourism businesses already mobilising behind the new initiative, I believe that Ireland's Ancient East will prove as effective and popular as the Wild Atlantic Way and will ultimately deliver significant additional numbers of visitors, revenue and jobs to the region".

The capital funding announced in the first phase of the 'New ideas in Ancient Spaces' Capital Grants Scheme is being awarded to:

Lullymore Heritage & Discovery Park Ltd - enhanced visitor experience, County Kildare (€29k); Titanic Connections, Cork (€50k); Uisneach Interpretative Centre, County Westmeath (€65k); Tholsel Visitor Centre, Fethard, County Tipperary (€198k); Redevelopment of Powerscourt Visitor Interpretation Experience, County Wicklow (€80k); Athlone Castle - Enhancing the Visitor Experience, County Westmeath (€76k); Hook Lighthouse Guided Tour Experience (€80k); Journeys of Exploration, Anglo Irish Heritage at Blackrock Castle, Cork (€160k); Dunleckney Maltings, Carlow (€200k); Birr's Anglo Irish & Early Christian Heritage, County Offaly (€84k); Boyne Valley: Waterway through Time, Trim, County Meath (€86k) and Ancient Stones, Untold Stories - St Canice's Cathedral & Round Tower Interpretation Project, Kilkenny (€80k).

Fáilte Ireland CEO Shaun Quinn said his organisation was working directly with businesses and communities on the ground to bring this new experience brand alive.

'During the assessment phase for this capital funding, we were incredibly impressed by the enthusiasm and high quality of ideas within the proposals that we received. Today's funding is just the first phase in capital supports to improve and augment the great variety of attractions already in the region and we will be in a position to announce further grants in the near future.

'As an initiative firmly rooted in our past and our stories, it is vital that we bring these stories alive to take full advantage of the opportunities provided by Ireland's Ancient East.'

He said the newly-announced funding will help us towards that goal and, by the year's end, 'we will have helped to prime projects in every county within Ireland's ancient East'.

Mr Quinn said that Ireland's Ancient East was an evolving initiative with much work to do. Fáilte Ireland is working with businesses and communities in the region to bring the proposition to life and to animate the stories of their locality. Mr Quinn added that, as part of the work to create a unified 'look' for the new initiative, €600k was now being allocated for the first phase of a signage and interpretation programme to bring all the diverse elements of Ireland's Ancient East under the new experience brand.

Ireland's Ancient East is geared to maximise the history and heritage in East and South of Ireland and bring it to greater international attention.

To do this, the new initiative will offer visitors a personal experience of 5000 years of history through a relaxing journey of discovery in the beautiful landscape that attracted warring settlers for millennia and illuminated by stories from the best storytellers in the world - the local people.

Based on comprehensive research in overseas markets, the initiative is aimed at particular market segments overseas who have indicated they would be more likely to come to Ireland to explore new landscapes, history and culture or simply to take time out from their busy lives and careers to connect with local heritage and nature and their own place within.

Fáilte Ireland's research suggests that an initiative themed along these lines has the potential to deliver an extra 600,000 overseas visitors (growth of more than 20 per cent) to the region and increase visitor revenue by almost 25 per cent to €950 million in total by 2020.

Wexford People

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