I was delighted to be invited to speak about my guided walking holidays at the Heritage Council’s event at Lough Lannagh, Mayo this morning, entitled “Heritage as an Engine for Economic Growth”.
I kept it simple, demonstrating how even a small operator like myself (and other colleagues) can bring a little economic benefit to an area, through delivery of guided walking holidays. The organisation of walking holidays requires partners – be that in accommodation, food provision, local transportation or great rural pubs. In a coastal county like Mayo, transportation can include not just bike and minibus hire, but also boat charter to reach offshore islands.
I try to work with B&Bs, like Hannah at Léim Siar, that will provide my guests with evening meals. Where that’s not possible, I work with local food providers, like the excellent John at the Clubhouse in Belmullet.
But I also spoke of how heritage tourism can involve getting down and dirty with locally based conservation projects, like the environmentally sensitive removal and eventual eradication of non-native invasive species, such as Rhododendron or Gunnera Tinctoria (‘Giant Rhubarb’). It was great to meet some people with whom I might be able to work on such projects in the future, by involving guests on my walking holidays.
Mayo is working hard to improve its position in the Irish tourism product offer. Domestically, we know we’re competing with the likes of Kerry and West Cork and much has been done by the County Council and other bodies on improving the walking product here. Internationally, we’re putting our offer up against Scotland, Norway and other European destinations for walking holidays. Where we’re different is in the quantity and quality of our heritage experiences. Being a county with a very low population density has allowed Mayo to retain much of its built, natural and cultural heritage.
Of course, I once again couldn’t resist the wheeling out of my big dream – to see long, looped walks of over 100 km around Mayo. Our county is a great, wild and very ‘real’ place for a walking holiday … and getting better.