In the Loop: What can Irish tourism learn from a remote peninsula?
The winner of this year’s Irish Times Best Place to Holiday in Ireland competition came up with a successful model
Best Place to Holiday in Ireland: Mo Sheedy, Orla and Hannah Connolly, Mel Sheedy, Mikey, Kate and Niamh Bogenberger at Loop Head Lighthouse. Photograph: Alan Betson
Could a slightly out-of-the-way tourist spot in west Co Clare offer a tourist model that other parts of Ireland could emulate? Loop Head peninsula will be honoured at a ceremony in Carrigaholt village tomorrow having won the Irish Times Best Place to Holiday in Ireland competition earlier this year. Its successful formula is down to the smart use of natural resources and local amenities, elements of which other areas could learn from.
Use what you have
Loop Head had no major tourist infrastructure or history of large-scale tourism. It was a lesser-visited quarter of Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard. But locals saw that this relative anonymity brought advantages. The peninsula wasn’t littered with holiday houses during the Celtic Tiger years, so it had a largely unspoilt landscape.
Loop Head makes good use of its marine resources, with dolphin-watching in the Shannon estuary, beachcombing and walking tours, and an array of sports. With thousands of kilometres of coastline, Ireland is slowly waking up to its potential for activities such as coasteering, sea safaris, geology tours and cave-hunting, and watersports such as paddle boarding and surfing.
Loop Head has had some of its greatest success in tourism since the onset of the recession. In a region that has seen its share of emigration and economic difficulty, small tourism businesses have been a lifeline for some of those who have stayed at home. They also have the potential to attract people back to the region. Much of the work was done by locals on a not-for-profit or voluntary basis, showing the value of community effort in breaking the cycle of poor economic performance.
Loop Head resists major interference with the environment, and even coach tours are discouraged. The peninsula’s tourist businesses are mostly small, low-impact projects such as cycling and walking tours, boat journeys and driving trips, campsites and remote accommodation. All of these also allow visitors to interact closely with Ireland’s natural environment. Other businesses, from seafood eateries to a seaweed bath centre, make use of local materials in catering to tourists.
Forget the weather
Loop Head’s motto is “You’ll be blown away”. Rather than apologising for the west of Ireland’s inclement weather, they have made the wild Atlantic climate an attraction in itself, and created outdoor-lifestyle tourism to match. We could all adopt that motto, whether on holiday or not.