‘Take a chance on us,' North Westmeath tells tour operators
“Take a chance on me,” sang ABBA and that has become the new theme song for North Westmeath.
This month for the first time ever, the area was represented at the Meitheal World Travel Fair. It was effectively speed dating for tourism, where North Westmeath got to meet tourism operators from massive markets like China and India as well as the UK and US.
Representing tourism powerhouse Tullynally Castle and Gardens and the new group North Westmeath Creative Tourism, Bartle D'Arcy engaged in over 40 official appointments with major tour operators over two days.
"It's a catch 22 situation," explained Cllr Una D'Arcy, who has brought together action groups, individuals and businesses from across North Westmeath to form the new tourism cluster.
"They want new, untested, emerging and undiscovered - which is North Westmeath. But they also want trustworthy.
“We needed to build confidence that between us we have the capacity to deliver an amazing holiday in Finnea, Multyfarnham, Clonmellon, Delvin, Castlepollard, Fore or Collinstown. I know we can. I know how amazing the people in these communities are; how welcoming, how talented how wonderful and transformative spending time with these communities is.
“We needed expertise like Bartle's; a website like the one we set up; we needed to start consolidating what it is that we are, and what we do, so we had the cold hard facts that overseas operators needed to get them to give us a chance.
“We needed the bednights, the bragging rights to our sites, the capacity to deliver experiential tourism that would have the owners of these companies saying ‘good job’ to the representatives they sent to meet us."
The new cluster is called North Westmeath Creative Tourism and its membership is growing every day.
"We are stronger together," explained Una, "there was a real concern that there was a focus on the success of Athlone and the Shannon and that we were being left behind slightly. A lot of people were asking me about accessing funding, managing events, getting the kind of success that we are enjoying with Fore into their areas.
“I am a community development practitioner. That means that you share everything - contacts, networks, expertise and your experience.
“So we held meetings last year, to get ready for 2019 and start building a set of objectives for north Westmeath. Tourism is a massive industry with lots of different ways to earn an income - from full time to the weekend money that means young people can afford a car of to go to college. It’s all crucial to a rural economy like ours.
“My hope with this group is that we work together to ensure that we all benefit. We are all in this together. There are people that have been working on tourism for decades to people that just started this year and by working together we all benefit."
Last year, Cllr D'Arcy brought a motion to the Mullingar Municipal District that went on to become an application into the Business Development Fund of the Economic and Tourism SPC to help fund a website. This website proved to be the crucial tool in building a clear picture of North Westmeath and all it has to offer.
"Our next step is familiarisation tours with our members so that we become ambassadors for the whole area. It is no good to know loads about Fore but have no clue about Streete or Clonmellon. We all need to know what we do, when we do it and how we can send business to each other. Attending Meitheal for the first time is a continuation of the progress already made in bringing North Westmeath to market through the branding of Ireland’s Ancient East.”