What the Best Place to Holiday in Ireland award means for Loop Head
‘We’re hoping that, nationally, a lot of people will be looking on the map and saying, “We didn’t know it was there, but now we’re going to go there” ’
‘Tourism, for us, is an exciting business to be in’: Cillian Murphy, owner of Murphy Blacks and chairman of Loop Head Tourism. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
“The good thing about local communities, such as that in Loop Head, is that they can do a polished job of their own tourism sub-brand. They don’t have to rely on the national tourism offices to do it for them,” says Eoghan Nolan, the managing director of Brand Artillery, who has worked on development projects for Coca-Cola, Kerrygold and Nissan, among others.
“The iconography of Ireland is quite dusty, and, for me, some of the brand images of Ireland are fatigued. Castles, diddly-aye, Guinness and rain: that’s a limited offering,” he says. “Brand Ireland is in trouble. It used to have an intriguing quality, but our economic woes have put us in the spotlight, and not always in a positive way.
“With emigration, for instance, a lot of Irish people abroad are now encountering would-be tourists to Ireland, and if they left because they can’t get a job here they may not be the best ambassadors.”
Orla Carroll is head of marketing and ebusiness at Discover Ireland. “What other people can learn from what Loop Head has done is that coming together as a community means working together, not competing against each other,” she says.
Cillian Murphy is the chairman of Loop Head Tourism, which has 41 members across the peninsula paying an annual membership fee of €240.
“We were very forgotten back here from a tourism-development point of view,” he says. “We would have been seen as the poor cousins down here, compared to the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher.
“It’s been hard to get people to come down to us. We felt ignored for 30 or 40 years, but in one sense we were lucky, because our product is fresh and unspoilt, and a lot of people are only hearing about us now. There is no industry here, and the fishing is all but gone, but there is potential in tourism.”
John Williams is a retired businessman who lives in Kilkee and is the secretary of Loop Head Tourism. “The catalyst for our whole tourism network was our Eden win in 2010,” he says, referring to a European award recognising sustainable tourism.
“We had to look around us. We saw what we had, and it was then, for me, the penny dropped that we had some excellent products owned by local people doing their own thing. We were taking for granted what we had around us, so we had to learn to look at it with a stranger’s eye to appreciate the value of it.”
With the Eden win, the area received a Leader grant to employ a person for a year to develop tourism. The work went to Trea Heapes, who co-runs Pure Camping on the peninsula. “We did an audit of our assets: figured out how many people we could accommodate on the peninsula, what type of accommodation we had, what kind of activities we could offer, what heritage and archaeological sites we had.
“And we also had to ask ourselves, what did we want out of tourism on Loop Head and what kind of tourism? For us it was about sustainability and preserving our way of life and keeping our people here.
“My advice to others would be that first you need to get together and see what you have. Identify the people who have skills, whether they are in marketing, PR or others. You have to define what makes you different and stand out. Our branding is, ‘Loop Head: prepare to be blown away.’ ”
Murphy’s advice to other small communities is: “You have to think slightly differently about what tourists want. All our businesses are small and family owned, and the area is not jaded with visitors. Tourism, for us, is an exciting business to be in.”
Murphy says that since being named the ‘Irish Times’ Best Place to Holiday in Ireland on Monday, Loop Head Tourism representatives have already been contacted by a number of organisations hoping to link up with them.
“A discussion has begun with Shannon Airport as to how we could work with them in the future,” Murphy says. “We’re hoping that, nationally, a lot of people will be looking at Loop Head on the map and saying, ‘We didn’t know it was there, but now we’re going to go there.’ ”