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New tourism plan aims to offset impact of Covid crisis

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A DEEP crisis facing the tourism sector in Clare was acknowledged as a new plan was approved by councillors this week to guide the industry for the next decade. The role of tourism as the county’s largest indigenous employer was highlighted, with hopes expressed by some members that the authority might play a role in securing a national cultural centre for Clare.

Outlining the impact of Covid-19 on tourism at the monthly meeting of Clare County Council, Director of Service Leonard Cleary noted that the new plan had had to take account of the pandemic. Head of Tourism Deirdre O’Shea agreed that against that backdrop, the strategy was vital. “The local tourism economy is in deep crisis,” she said. “Having a strategy is more important than ever for the next ten years.”

Ms O’Shea outlined the risk to the 12,000 jobs dependent on tourism, as well as to the €266 million generated annually by the sector. “The strategy is still a vital road map for the next ten years,” she said, “and will position Clare as a globally recognised, sustainable destination, with a vitality that comes from deep tradition, against a stunning landscape.”

The plan, which has been developed in collaboration with agencies including Shannon Group and Fáilte Ireland, outlines 27 strategic priorities “with grassroots commitment to sustainability”. Ms O’Shea outlined four “destination experiences” focusing on Clare’s key attractions and main tourism markets: High Powers and High Towers; Adventure and Family Fun; Creativity Vitality and Holistic Landscapes. She thanked all members for their extensive inputs to the plan, resulting from workshops and steering committee meetings.

Proposing the plan, Councillor Cillian Murphy commended all of those involved including Mr Cleary, Ms O’Shea and Tourism Officer Joan Tarmey. “This is one of the most important documents for West Clare and for the rest of Clare,” he said. “We had a few fights, that’s to be expected, but we have an excellent strategy which I am delighted to propose.” The strategy was seconded by Councillor Gabriel Keating, who said there had been huge improvements since his time on the Clare Tourism Council.

Councillor Pat Hayes said that he was delighted with the plan. “It has been a long time coming,” he noted. “We have had a lot of work, debate and challenges. The document had to be reimagined to cope with Covid. This is a document for the whole county and I want to compliment all of those involved in producing it. It is a living document and that’s important, because nobody knows where the sector is going and it needs to change as times change.”

Councillor Ann Norton commended the collaboration behind the strategy and the “tireless work” that went into it. “Tourism has taken a massive hit and there is no better way now to address that,” she said.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” said Councillor Joe Killeen, adding that the strategy had been worth waiting for.

The position of Shannon Airport was highlighted by Councillor Pat Daly as a concern. “Clare is the envy of every other county,” he said, “but we have to keep an eye on our airport and support it in every way we can.”

The importance of having a national cultural attraction in the county was underlined by Councillor Johnny Flynn, who referred to efforts to create such a centre in conjunction with Clare Museum in Ennis. “The centre for traditional Irish music went to another county,” he pointed out, adding that further recognition of the county’s intangible heritage in music and sport continued to offer potential. “If we can further develop the proposal to open a national centre for intangible heritage,” he said, “there is a huge opportunity there to create a unique attraction. All of the research shows the importance of a having a national centre.”

This view was supported by Councillor John Crowe who said he hoped that the council executive would take and interest and put their weight behind it.

Councillor Joe Garrihy described the new strategy as “fantastic,” saying he now wanted to see full implementation and benefits for all parts of Clare. “Lisdoonvarna was the original town built on wellness,” he said. “It is now in danger of losing its identity. Miltown and numerous other towns need to feel the benefits too.”

Councillor Pat McMahon noted that there was something unique in Clare in terms of tourism, despite the challenges while Councillor Pat Burke welcomed the numerous references to Holy Island. “It’s all about implementation,” he noted.

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