Fáilte Ireland unveils Hidden Heartlands brand for the midlands
Government investing €2 million to promote the region to tourists at home and abroad
The Hidden Heartlands plans will begin with the development of a masterplan for the River Shannon area and the Beara Breifne Way.
Fáilte Ireland believes that marketing the midlands as Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands can match the success of the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East, according to the company’s chief executive, Paul Kelly.
Speaking outside Athlone on the Roscommon/ Westmeath border at the launch of the latest regional tourism brand, Mr Kelly said the midlands had been a marketing “black hole”, as it lay in the shade of the other brands.
Hidden Heartlands completes Fáilte Ireland’s branding of Ireland into four distinct tourist offerings: Dublin; Ireland’s Ancient East; Ireland’s Hidden Heartland; and the Wild Atlantic Way.
Recruitment will begin next week of a five-strong team to promote the new brand, while the Government is putting aside a €2 million budget to promote the region to tourists at home and abroad.
“There will be some short-term cynicism as with any new brand . . . that will die down and we know in the long term that we have a core, a really compelling idea and that will win through,” Mr Kelly declared.
Rise in business
Recalling the scepticism and subsequent success of other brands such as the Wild Atlantic Way, Mr Kelly revealed that in “Ireland’s Ancient East, recently in our tourism barometer survey, we had 72 per cent of businesses in the area saying that they are up, which is the largest region in the country, even ahead of the Wild Atlantic Way in terms of the numbers of businesses saying that their business was up last year”.
“There was a little bit of a black hole in the middle of the country from a branding point of view,” Mr Kelly admitted. “That is not unusual. I would say Ireland now is probably unique in that we have the entire country covered in regional tourism brands. I am not sure anywhere else in the world has got that far yet.”
Ireland’s biggest tourist markets are the UK, US, Germany and France. “Later on this year we will have our first flights from the Far East landing directly, with flights from Hong Kong coming in and Bejing, so that will bring a whole new dimension to Irish tourism,” said Mr Kelly.
Minister for Transport and Tourism Shane Ross had earlier joked about naming the new branding project – which had been included in the programme for government – “Boxer’s baby” as his Independent Alliance colleague and Athlone resident Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran had promoted the project to such an extent.
Mr Ross described the new brand as “seductive” and expressed a belief that there were many hidden treasures in the region. He said the Government was fully committed to the project as could be seen with the creation of five full-time positions to promote the brand. In the next four years the Government will spend €108 million on tourism capital infrastructure in areas including Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands, he said.
“What we are launching here is something very, very big,” he said. “This is not just piggy backing on tourism in Ireland, this is an add on. Fáilte Ireland’s figures show that there could be, I think, as many as 2,000 jobs nationwide as a result of this initiative today,” Mr Ross said.
Mr Moran claimed the midlands had been neglected for some time. “This is a commitment by Government to show that the centre of Ireland is up and running and is open for business. When the hotels and the B&Bs buy into this, the money will come,” he said.
The launch heard 2017 was a record year for Irish tourism, up 3 per cent on the previous year, with a growth in employment of 10,000 to 235,000. Attendees were told that about 70 per cent of Irish tourism takes place in 30 per cent of the land mass. However, research now indicates that growth in hotel bed nights outside of Dublin is now ahead of those within Dublin.
The latest Fáilte Ireland brand hopes to get tourists “active in nature” and encourages them to explore the region’s natural assets such as the River Shannon and its walking trails, boating, fishing, greenways and woodlands. According to Mr Kelly, this will begin with the development of a masterplan for the River Shannon area and the new Beara Breifne Way walk from the north coast of Ireland down through the spine of Ireland’s new Hidden Heartlands to the Beara Peninsula in the southwest.