TOURISM operators in East Clare have said they remain cautiously optimistic in the face of the ongoing Covid-19 lock-down, which has brought the sector to a standstill for now.
The season would normally begin around Easter, and tourism providers are currently coping with a raft of cancelled tour bookings, as well as the shelving of key events and activities. Hope is being drawn, however, from the anticipated demand for ‘staycation’ breaks once the restrictions on movement are lifted, and from the development of key projects including the River Shannon Tourism Master Plan 2020-2030, which is currently in draft form and open for public submissions.
“A good season in East Clare would be starting around Easter,” noted Arlene White, Chairperson of Tourism East Clare. “What we are now seeing instead is the cancellation of bookings for months ahead. It’s very tough for everyone, but we understand the need for the restrictions and we are hoping that 2020 won’t be a complete write-off.”
Ms White added that a number of significant developments for the east of the county were now taking shape, among them a major plan to connect tourism providers along the River Shannon and to market the region as a single destination.
The initiative to devise a master plan for the River Shannon region is headed up by Waterways Ireland (WI) and involves Fáilte Ireland, Clare County Council and nine other local authorities along the river.
“Similar to the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East, an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the tourism product in the area is being undertaken and proposals being made how to grow a sustainable international tourism destination in the Shannon Corridor which respects the nature and diversity of the environment and its people,” a press release from WI stated. The documented added that the project is expected to last nine months and outcomes “will include product development and investment recommendations”.
Commenting on the draft plan, Ms White said there was a sense of optimism among tourism providers over the potential it contained. “It can rally only be a positive thing for East Clare,” she remarked. “It’s great to see that it is being tied in with the aims of Fáilte Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands project which is all about encouraging people to explore areas that are off the beaten track. Most of our member organisations in Tourism East Clare are involved in what would be considered ‘slow tourism’ activities and encouraging people to get out and about in nature. There are some very good ideas in this draft document. The main thrust is to market and recognise the River Shannon as a destination and it’s great to see that what was under-utilised as a tourist attraction is now becoming the focal point of a master plan.”
Increasing the opportunities to connect tourism operators and stakeholders along the river was another facet of the plan that was also welcomed: “For the first time, there is a clear initiative to create a network around the River Shannon and a move to bring people together to achieve a shared goal. Stakeholders from three discovery zones – the upper, middle and lower Shannon – will be encouraged to come together for information sharing, collaboration and sharing of best practice. All of this is very positive, particularly the fact that it links up with what Fáilte Ireland is already doing in terms of the Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands destination marketing activities and the Lough Derg Destination Development Plan, which brings together the local authorities in Clare, Galway and Tipperary.”
“This won’t be an overnight thing,” the tourism chief cautioned. “It is important to bear in mind that this is a ten-year plan, but there are milestones along the way and these include the creation of a Shannon Discovery Bus Route, which is due to be launched in 2025.”
While the plan won’t address the unprecedented challenges created by the Covid-19 crisis, it does give hope for the future and Ms White said there is still some cautious optimism for 2020: “We could still see a rise in demand for staycations towards the latter part of the year, so we are trying to stay optimistic. We have already undertaken intensive marketing including advertising in a publication called ‘Your Daily Adventure’ which has a run of 120,000 copies and reaches an estimated 420,000 people.”
Ms White also encouraged East Clare tourism providers to make their views known during the consultation period on the River Shannon Tourism Master Plan 2020-2030, which runs until Wednesday, April 22. The draft document is available to view online on waterwaysireland.org or clarecoco.ie.