Cliffs of Kerry
The Wild Atlantic Way is Ireland’s first long-distance driving route. Where land and sea collide. Where untamed beauty abounds. Welcome to unforgettable experiences. Welcome to the Wild Atlantic Way. www.wildatlanticway.com
Vacation to The Emerald Isle
We recently returned on a family trip to Ireland. it’s the third-largest island in Europe in landmass. Ireland ranks the second in population of islands in Europe after Great Britain. Experiencing many invasions from Europe in its history, the island has been inhabited for 7,000 years.
We mainly visited points along the Wild Atlantic Way, the longest defined coastal drive in the world. Thought I’d share insights about visiting Ireland’s west coastal region through marketer-colored glasses.
I noticed the Wild Atlantic Way signs about a day into the trip. Once I returned home, along with joy of recovering from jetlag, I examined the marketing side of Ireland’s tourism. My first impression?
1. Understated Marketing of Ireland
Ireland embraces what they are and what they are not. Ireland does not oversell and underdeliver its west coastal region as a tourist destination. The island is 32,595 square miles, comparable to Indiana in size. The coastal drive is about 2,500km. Ireland is low key. A person has difficulty finding commercialism there. You have to look hard to find it. The Emerald Isle defines the country by counties (Clare, Kerry, Cork, etc.) and not by a stereotype of one country. One hears the four provinces mentioned, but they are cultural and historical references, not boundaries. Desire a bustling city beyond the larger city of Dublin (population 527,612) brimming with excitement and being surrounded by lots of people? Not there.
Want extreme, distinct seasons of snow and sunshine, desert and beaches with warm ocean water? Clear blue skies and rarely chance of rain? Not there. If, as an American on your limited vacation
days allocation, you’re looking for these things, then no, Ireland’s not for you. It’s steeped in its culture, proud and humble at the same time. Even in serving potatoes, featured on every menu we saw. Think Irish famine. The Irish staple is also available in a ready-to-go package at the petrol station (gas station)/foodmart.
Architectural wonders abound, but of the truly ancient kind. We visited a ring fort built without mortar or cement sometime between 500 B.C. and A.D. 300. Staigue Fort has a wall 5.5m (18ft) high and 4m (13ft) thick amidst a circular area of 27.4m (90ft) in diameter. picture)
2. Irish People are Welcoming, yet Overprotective
When you visit, you see “Failte Ireland” in signs, stickers and printed material, everywhere. It means “Welcome to Ireland.” But you won’t hear the citizens say it … it’s a tourist term. Ireland seems to love its tourists. Repeatedly, people would go out of their way to serve you. They will show, direct, guide and accompany you … as my daughter would say, act overprotectively towards you. I have daily examples of this.
We traveled the Ring of Kerry, a road route along the outer rim of the Ivernaugh Peninsula. Narrow, curvy roads with no shoulders and harepin turns. Stressful at times for both driver and passenger. We relished in our stops – a chance to take a break from the worry of managing the adventures of the narrow road. One town stop was Sneem. We shopped for souvenirs for family members (and, I confess, shopped for ourselves). When we purchased the goods, we asked the salesclerk her suggestions for a picnic place in the area. She recommended the Garden of Senses, a park about 200m nearby. She recited directions, and we seemed to understand, but she wanted to confirm. She demonstrated extreme customer service. She walked with us as we were leaving the store and accompanied us to the street corner, her voice and hand gestures directing us to where we needed to go.
By midweek, we were getting familiar with the narrow roads and fairly adjusted to the five-hour time difference. For the most part, it was a relaxing trip. There were moments of increasing blood pressure, however.
On the night before we returned to the U.S., we arrived at the No. 1 Pery Square Hotel in Limerick in the evening. It was late. Our flight departed early in the morning. What do we need to do before we stepped on the jetway? Our mind was bogged amok in tasks. One task among many: Refill the gas tank in our rental car. Where? Oh, the stress of being in an unfamiliar city. We relied on Google Maps for our trip, but sometimes it was unreliable to locate the closest stores or best travel routes. The hotel staff member rested our fears by showing directions to the petrol station on Google Map. She also walked with us outdoors to give us specific street names and landmarks to look for. She wanted to ensure this momentary stress could be relieved.
3. Signage – Effective, Ineffective, Humorous
In my opinion, Ireland has three kinds of signage: effective, ineffective and humorous.
Ireland is one country that joins 35% of the world population who drive on the left. Being in the minority, why shouldn’t I appreciate these signs for enhancing safety? The sign is ineffective because there were a) too few and b) randomly placed on the roadside. We saw none around the roads surrounding the car rental company, for example.
They did not intend the message to be funny, but I found the farm safety sign humorous.
4. Mixed Messages
Fáilte Ireland, the National Tourism Development Authority, started in 2003, young in marketing the olde country. That’s why I was surprised to see countless taglines and phrases. Ireland’s numerous messages are disjointed and confusing to visitors. Jump into Ireland, Discover Ireland, Wild Atlantic Way, and more. The Wild Atlantic Way tagline was not top of mind because of many competing advertising slogans.
Tourist Information Centers are easy to find. They feature abundant information about the location, but also have every form of information you would like for the Wild Atlantic Way. I found the staff friendly too.
5. Star Wars was Here
Some points on the Atlantic Wild Way were film locations for Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens and Star Wars Episode VIII. I did not know this until I toured The Skelling Experience Centre and learned how the last scene in The Force Awakens featured Rey and Luke Skywalker on Skellig Michael. Boat trips to Skellig Michael required fair weather (not on the day we visited) and reservations made months in advance. So we only viewed the UNESCO Heritage Site from the coast. Breathtaking just the same. I wonder how Star Wars filming has affected the Ireland tourism industry.
Is the marketing working?
According to the Fáilte Ireland, the organization announced Ireland’s first long-distance driving route and plan to invest €10 million in 2014 in a route which stretches from the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal County to Kinsale in County Cork.
The tourism and hospitality industry employs an estimated 185,000 people and generates almost €5.7 billion in annual revenue, per their website. In 2014, about 7,604,400 tourists visited Ireland, an 8.1% increase over the previous year figure of 6,985,900. This number was a 7.2% increase over 2012.The latest buzz says the tourism’s marketing is working. Travel + Leisure magazine asked readers to rank cities in their latest World’s Best survey. Three cities in Ireland made the top 30 list. Two are inclusive to the Wild Atlantic Way. Galway ranked #1 and Cork is #4. Alas, we did not see these places on our trip.
Of the supposedly 159 discovery points along the 2,500km route, we’ve barely started discovering the Wild Atlantic Way. Many kilometers to go. I think Ireland has many positives to share. You will not be disappointed. With a little more polish and luck of the Irish, they will become a “must visit destination” for more travelers to come.