The WDC has always recognised that rural tourism can play a key role in promoting sustainable development. Our action plan for rural tourism was outlined in the Blueprint for Tourism Development in the West: An Action Plan for Rural Areas publication.
Blueprint recognised that moving tourism growth to rural areas demanded a major shift in policy and practice. It identified that no new body needed to be established to drive development, but that development could be achieved by coordinated intervention from a wide range of existing agencies in the Western Region. This led to the setting up of the Western Development Tourism Programme in 2001.
Western Development Tourism Programme
The Western Development Tourism Programme (WDTP) oversees the implementation of the Blueprint. The WDTP is chaired by Fáilte Ireland and is comprised of a variety of state and semi-state agencies.
In establishing a multi-agency partnership, the WDC aimed to:
- Connect tourism development agencies and facilitate partners to design coordinated development strategies for rural tourism.
- Use each agency’s resources and skills to create the critical mass necessary to drive development.
- Create more targeted opportunities for rural tourism and develop a long-term perspective for rural tourism development.
- Pilot and test new ideas for rural tourism.
Whether building a partnership between a local tourism group involving a local authority and LEADER company or securing a major regional marketing programme, all projects and programmes initiated by the WDTP are delivered on the basis of economic, social and environmental sustainability.
The basic philosophy and indeed the strategic approach of the WDTP anticipates many of the recommendations of the National Tourism Policy Review Group in New Horizons. As a result, key features of the WDTP work programme and outputs include:
- environmental best practice;
- regional clusters of excellence;
- innovative new product development;
- activity in non-traditional tourism areas.
WDTP’s approach has also facilitated inter-agency partnership for all agencies involved in tourism in the Western Region. This has clearly added value to the work of other tourism agencies. This can be seen in:
- the inter-agency partnership across thinking, funding and planning for sustainable rural tourism development;
- the delivery of new initiatives;
- the regional dimension to LEADER thinking and activities and the provision of tourism expertise and knowledge to LEADER;
- capacity building for the trade supported by LEADER, Fáilte Ireland, the Institute for Technology, Sligo and private industry;
- reduced duplication of effort across tourism initiatives in the region (i.e. WDTP has established best practices that can be replicated elsewhere);
- inter RTA-Shannon Development cooperation – Ireland’s Western Regions Brochure;
- investment of €4.2 million and the creation of 25 full and part-time jobs.
1. Green box
Begun in 2002 as Ireland’s first eco-tourism project, the Green Box is now becoming one of Ireland’s major niche tourism initiatives. The project delivers an eco-tourism destination to visitors to the Green Box region (all of Leitrim and Fermanagh and parts of Donegal, Sligo and Cavan).
The key aims of the project include the:
- Creation of new market ready products by enterprises in less visited rural areas.
- Creation of the first eco-tourism certification programme in Ireland and the adoption of the EU approved EU Flower award by accommodation providers in the area (essential to ensure that proper standards are developed and maintained for all Green Box products).
- Development of a range of eco tourism packages to appeal to regional, national and international tourists.
- Delivery of real economic benefits at ground level for product providers and communities.
The Green Box project generates tourism and activities that:
- have a minimal impact on the ecology of the area;
- are of maximum benefit to the community; and
- match the needs of the environmentally-conscious visitor.
The WDTP has played a key facilitation role between the public, private and community sectors in the development of the Green Box plan, the coordination of applications for funding and the establishment of the Green Box Board.
Green Box programme areas:
The Green Box has three main programming areas:
- Capital Development Programme– administering grant aid to the private and community sector to support them in developing market-ready products. This programme will also support two flagship projects in Fermanagh and in Leitrim.
- Product Providers Network– networking 100 product providers and community groups throughout the region while developing Ireland’s’ first eco tourism standard.
- Marketing Programme– promoting and selling the Green Box and its product providers at local, regional, national and international levels.
Tourists can now visit a conceptual and spatial ‘Green Box’ – a defined region containing environmentally sustainable products, accommodation and attractions in an area of clean natural resources.
2. Walking in the West
The Walking in the West (WITW) guide is another example of how the WDTP continues to play a central role in coordinating rural tourism development projects. Published in 2005, Walking in the West: A Step-by-Step Guide, proposes a new integrated development process that will deliver a world-class walking product, support the commercialisation of the walking product in the West and increase visitor numbers to the Western Region.
The Walking in the West model’s focus is the application of the step-by-step guide to National Waymarked Ways (long-distance walks rather than smaller looped walks). For rural areas to benefit fully from the walking product, walkers must be encouraged to avail of packages that include overnight stays in rural areas.
Community groups and private product service providers use the guide to develop, promote and sell walking packages based on international models of best practice. The guide sets out the key success factors in making the walking product attractive to international walking tourists and also outlines clear recommendations to help stimulate the commercialisation of the walking product in the region.
- Local Walking Partnerships (LWP) for each walk within the region should be developed to include a mix of public, private and community interests. The primary responsibilities of each LWP will include the creation and implementation of a local action plan and development strategy, route maintenance plans and a marketing and sales strategy.
- ‘Walk Managers’ should be employed by each LWP. Their role will be to facilitate networking among the community, public and private interests to ensure that the walking product is managed effectively to deliver full benefits to stakeholders along the route. The Walk Manager will facilitate access issues with local landowners, the creation of commercial services along the route, maintenance of standards, interaction with the tourism marketing agencies, handling of sales queries and creation and maintenance of an e-commerce enabled website. It is envisaged that the Walk Manager will report to the Local Action Group manager/managers.
- At national and regional policy level, Walking in the West recommends that a National Framework for walking is developed. This could address issues such as route development, quality standards, route maintenance, marketing and sales. The National Framework is being developed under the guidance of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and will be grounded in impending Fáilte Ireland and National Waymarked Ways Advisory Committee (NWWAC) studies and the Countryside Recreational Policy which is currently being devised by Comhairle na Tuaithe. To implement the National Policy Framework, WITW recommends that a Regional Walking Strategy be developed by Regional Walking Partnerships i.e. public, private and community partners in each of the regional tourism authority areas (North West Tourism, Ireland West Tourism and Shannon Development).
5. Tourism Tastes Trail
In 2005, food tourism was identified by the Western Development Tourism Programme as a branded niche product for the region that could be used to:
- Promote compelling tourism propositions.
- Gain competitive advantage.
- Redress the seasonality of tourism demand.
- Develop a sense of place.
The Tourism Tastes Trail (TTT) started life as the Western Food Trail in 2005, which aimed to establish a network of producers in the Western Region. The region was one of four regions (the others were Tuscany, Midi-Pyrenees and Poland) working on the development of a ‘Tourism Tastes Trail’. The TTT is an innovative and unique approach to product development. In 2006 the Western Food Trail was adapted and rebranded as the Tourism Tastes Trail (TTT). This contained two main elements:
- Food Tourism Seminar 2006.
- The Food Tourism Trail.
6. Food Tourism Seminar
Organised by the WDTP, the Food Tourism Seminar was a ground-breaking event – it set in motion the development of a pilot trail in order to create a marketable Food Tourism package which could be tested on the market in the Western Region.
The seminar’s main aim was to discuss how food tourism opportunities could attract more visitors to the Western Region for a quality food experience centred on locally produced and specialist food.
Held on 31 March 2006 in Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim, the seminar was attended by a broad range of over 200 delegates. These represented artisan and larger food producers, specialist food retailers, specialist craft retailers, accommodation and tourism providers, restaurants, private consultants operating in food/tourism, national/regional food and tourism support agencies.
7. Food Tourism Trail
The TTT programme set out to establish a Food Tourism trail based on traditional product themes that are indigenous to the Western Region. Galway county was selected as the destination for the pilot trail and approximately 20 providers (food producers, accommodation and hospitality providers) covering the areas of Connemara, the Aran Islands and Galway city worked with the WDTP to create a three-night/four-day holiday package.
The package was aimed at groups (based on a minimum of six) coming to the region via Shannon or Ireland West-Knock Airport. At the end of 2006, the food and tourism partners involved in the pilot trail agreed to establish a Product Marketing Group (PMG) to bring the TTT onto the next stage.
Renewable Energy Projects
1. Wood Energy
Wood energy is the most significant source of renewable energy in the European Union, where it is a technically mature, widely deployed and commercially viable sector. Appropriate and planned development of the sector will give rise to greater awareness of the carbon economy and environmentally sensitive behaviours (both personal and corporate), including wider use of green technologies which in turn will benefit the wider economy and, of course, the environment.
The Western Region is uniquely placed to develop a wood energy sector because, with 41% of afforested land in the state, it has potentially enough forestry resource needed to supply market demands. In addition, a high proportion of this forestry is of an age profile where it requires thinnings (forestry thinnings and residues are a major potential source of wood fuel).
The WDC intends to accelerate growth in wood energy use by providing a coordinated and strategic framework for the development of the sector. To facilitate this, in 2006 the WDC set up the Regional Wood Energy Advisory Group to act as a regional coordination mechanism. Research commissioned by the WDC, with the support of the Advisory Group, showed that the best opportunity for developing the wood energy sector in the region is in the supply of wood chip from private-sector forestry to commercial and industrial heat users (hotels, hospitals, schools).
Benefits of the wood energy sector:
The strategy is designed to achieve a regional heat target of 477 MW of heat by 2020 (approximately 11% of the regional heat market). The WDC’s research suggests that this will:
- Create 887 full time equivalent (FTE) jobs in the Western Region.
- Generate CO2 savings of 619,000 tonnes per annum (a benefit of €6.9m if carbon is valued at €15 per tonne) for the region.
- Generate 477 MW of heat energy, utilising 472,000 tonnes of timber with an annual value of €1.7 million to the farming sector.
- Increase annual Gross Value Added (GVA) in the Western Region of €15 million.
There are of course other advantages to promoting wood energy as a source of renewable energy in the region. One key additional benefit most likely stems from its role in achieving critical mass in the wood heat industry. Another benefit is its longer-term role in developing viable economic activity in rural areas. Because wood heating uses existing natural resources, most of the employment is rural. In addition, high transport costs mean that the activities must be locally based, bringing benefits throughout the region.
Strategy and Action Plan:
The WDC has mapped out regional targets and an action plan for growth/development of the wood energy sector in the report Wood Energy Strategy for Western Region. This identified that the key drivers for the growth of the sector are a proactive development approach and the provision of expertise and advice at regional level.
The Strategy and Action Plan aims to develop the entire supply chain – from producer to end user. This will ensure a consistent supply of wood chip by coordinating the large number of small-scale private foresters across the region. (This will give heat users confidence in their access to a supply and encourage a switch from fossil fuel-based heating systems to wood heat.)
Actions already achieved:
The WDC, supported by the Regional Advisory Group, has already begun to deliver elements of the Strategy and Action Plan and three actions were completed in 2008:
- An analysis of the community enterprise opportunities presented by the wood fuel supply chain in a joint initiative with Údarás na Gaeltachta.
- A review and best practice guide on the role of local authorities in supporting the wood energy sector in partnership with Donegal County Council.
- An assessment of the biomass combined heat and power (CHP) market potential in the region and the potential economic benefits that could be derived from development of the sector.
WDC’s and community involvement in renewable energy
Community support is vital to allow the renewable energy sector to achieve its full potential as an energy resource and in the process reach government policy targets. Renewable energy projects can bring significant benefits to the rural economy and the community where primary resources are located. They can create economically and environmentally sustainable enterprises and provide employment opportunities in rural areas experiencing agricultural decline. Other benefits include:
- A greater public acceptance of renewable energy projects (international experience has shown that this results in increased levels of uptake of renewable energy technologies).
- Potential investment opportunities and monetary reward for people living in rural areas.
- Assistance in the implementation of government policy goals and targets by helping to address such issues as increasing fuel security through use of local energy resources, increasing the rates of renewable energy generation and reducing carbon emissions.
2. To Catch the Wind
In 2004 the WDC published To Catch the Wind: The Potential for Community Ownership of Wind Farms in Ireland. The 2004 report included recommendations for policy change to allow more community involvement in the sector. One recommendation was that renewable energy projects that incorporate a substantial element of community ownership should be able to access specific supports – not only to expand the renewable energy sector but also as a means of promoting rural development.
You can download To Catch the Wind here.
3. Communities and Renewable Energy
In 2007 the WDC published Communities and Renewable Energy: A Guide as a follow-up to the 2004 report. This guide is a practical guide for communities interested in taking part in a renewable energy project. It also gives policy-makers and private developers an ‘insider’s view’ into what is needed to encourage community involvement and investment in the renewable energy sector. It outlines what happened when a private local developer and a community group in Co. Mayo came together to develop a project involving community investment in a wind farm.
You can download Communities and Renewable Energy here.
The WDC acted as project facilitator for this project and this role underlined the type of support necessary for community groups wishing to engage with private developers in renewable energy projects.
Organic Agri Food Project
Ireland imports up to 70% of its organic commodities, so there is scope for expanding the organic market both at home and for export. In fact, 37% of all organic producers within the state are from the Western Region (www.bordbia.ie/aboutfood/organicfood/pages/organicfood.aspx).
Increasing consumer trends of healthy eating, functional foods and environmental concerns support projections of growing market demand for organic produce in the medium term. In addition, a strong growth in the UK and EU organic markets offers a key opportunity for Irish producers together with the continued increase in domestic demand.
Blueprint for Organic Agri-Food Production
The WDC has been involved in the organic agri-food sector since 2001 and has been at the forefront in promoting the need to support development in the sector. In 2001 we produced Blueprint for Organic Agri-Food Production in the West – the first systematic analysis of organic production in Ireland.
You can download Blueprint for Organic Agri-Food Production here.
The Western Organic Strategic Initiative (WOSI) was set up as a result of the Blueprint report and WOSI’s work resulted in the establishment of the Western Organic Network and Atlantic Organics Ltd. The WDC was also central to driving partners to secure INTERREG funding to allow delivery of these intiatives. Through its sales at farmers markets and retail outlets, Atlantic Organics Ltd, has shown that there is a domestic demand for value-added organic products, and Rossinver-branded products now include beef and lamb sausages, relish and oats. Bord Bia (the Irish food board) market research has also identified market opportunities in the following sectors:
- red meat (beef, lamb) and poultry;
- dairy products (yoghurts, cheese);
- and fruit and vegetables.
Western Development Commission’s Model of Rural Development
Because of the positive impact of WDC initiatives, this approach can be applied to progress other aspects of the organic sector throughout Ireland. The WDC documented the development process undertaken in the organic sector in the report Western Development Commission’s Model of Rural Development. In 2007 the WDC, together with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food supported a group of regional projects to carry out a strategic review of the organic agri-food sector in the Western Region. The WDC also provided funding for the projects to review achievements to date and from there they mapped out actions for the next three years.
You can download Western Development Commission’s Model of Rural Development here.
Website are available for organic players;