Sustainability Series: Ireland’s Loop Head Provides Best-Case Study in Destination Management – Part 2

This is the second installment of a 2part series where Euromonitor International spoke with Cillian Murphy, Chairperson of Loop Head Tourism, to find out more about sustainability and its growing importance to tourism. Loop Head Tourism, positioned on the western tip of County Clare in Ireland, won gold at the prestigious 2015 World Responsible Tourism Awards for Heritage and Cultural Attraction last November. It was the only Irish destination listed in the global sustainable top 100 destinations.

This second part discusses how Loop Head rallied together behind its sustainability manifesto, and provides helpful insights and recommendations for other destination managers interested in exploring a similar future for their destination.

Loop Head’s sustainability model appeals to all demographics

Loop Head Tourism strives to attract the adventurous, the health conscious, the imaginative and the young and old, in the latter case tapping into the fastest growing tourism demographic in Europe. It wants them to stay and savour its coastline, its beaches, its restaurants and music pubs, and it wants them to indulge themselves. Today, many travellers fail to obtain a truly authentic taste of their destination, hampered by battalions of fellow travellers from the very country or region they sought to escape. Having said that, Mr Murphy is aware of the nearby attractions swarming with tourists that also feed Loop Head; joining the Cliffs of Moher in their ability to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors are the world-famous areas known as The Burren and the Doonbeg International Golf Club and Resort, owned by Donald Trump. As stated, many who visit here will also visit Loop Head, but they will not be led there on a red carpet.

How the Loop Head community was brought on board with sustainability

The phrase: ‘Never waste a good crisis’ certainly was not wasted on the inhabitants of Loop Head. On the contrary, the economic meltdown which befell the entire country in 2008 was seen as an opportunity for business owners to come together from a position where they had little to lose, and to take a risk that in better financial times might have been seen as a leap too far into the unknown.

The Loop Head community was able to pull together and ensure that, if a sustainability strategy was to be followed, then, the diverse areas and parishes that make up the peninsula would need to have equal representation, regardless of population or financial status. Once this was settled, the next step was a series of brainstorming sessions involving the entire community. Problems were anticipated and thrashed out, and, ultimately, consensus was reached. Common ground was found between sustainability and economic reality. Ultimately, it was all about numbers, with the number being 80%, which represented the target percentage of incoming revenue the community sought to trap.

Sustainability is not without its share of outside pressures, but ‘its force’ remains strong

Ireland‘s recent economic recovery is seen by many as almost miraculous. This is particularly the case with tourism, and even more so when we consider the West of Ireland. The Wild Atlantic Way has struck a resonant chord with Ireland’s source markets. This, however, presents its share of challenges to a community such as Loop Head. To stick with decisions that go against the grain and to ‘hold tough against the quick buck’ requires cohesion between community players. Such cohesion, however, appears in abundance in Loop Head. Projects such as road widening are frowned upon if they infringe on the area’s natural beauty. Instead, in such cases, coach tour operators are encouraged to liaise with smaller local operators whose mini buses, some of which are planned to become electrically powered, can navigate the narrow roads, while their drivers distil the surrounding wonders.

Kilbaha Gallery and Coffee Shop: An example of sustainability’s success

When, in 2011, the local County Council suggested placing a visitor centre and coffee shop within Loop Head Lighthouse, one of the peninsula’s most remote landmarks, the sustainability strategy was employed with great energy by the locals. They stood their ground against the plan and today the lighthouse remains in its original unspoilt form, while, nearby, the recently opened Kilbaha Gallery and Coffee Shop provides respite to tourists seeking refreshment. This facility is owned and managed by two local women from a previously existing building, providing increased revenue and local employment.

What lessons can Loop Head teach others with an interest in a sustainability strategy?

The takeaways from this case seem simple. The secret is to look at what already exists in an area and augment it. Cillian Murphy’s use of the maxim: “Great places to live are great places to visit” rings true. Think of the next generation, both economically and ecologically, and hold on to the vision that both, particularly in Ireland, are intertwined. Think of what you want as a community and strive to maintain its integrity. Loop Head is a best-in-class case for implementing and maintaining a sustainability strategy.