MINISTER for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Leo Varadkar, has urged the people of Limerick to utilise the tourist attractions and amenities in their area. The facilities, he said, need a mix of home visitors and tourists in order to flourish.
Minister Varadkar visited the Ballyhoura area on Friday last where he received a presentation on the development and marketing of rural tourism in the area and also availed of the opportunity to cycle the world class Ballyhoura Mountain Bike Trails.
“If people use the facilities that are in their locality then they are more likely to respect them and make sure they are looked after and ensure that people don’t vandalise or damage them which happens a lot in some places unfortunately,” he said.
“No attraction, even the big huge ones, can get by on tourism alone, like Dublin Zoo has to get by with a mixture of people from the area and visitors,” continued the minister as he prepared to tackle the hills and slopes of the Ballyhoura Mountain Bike Trail near Ardpatrick, with Limerick TD, Patrick O’Donovan.
“It is just a quick visit but I like to get outdoors. I have heard a lot about Ballyhoura both as an example of community development but also as a very good attraction for activity tourism so I was keen to come here and meet the people who have made it happen and assure them of government support in the future,” added the Minster.
Prior to taking to the great outdoors, Minister Varadkar enjoyed a working lunch at Deebert House Hotel in Kilmallock where he met with members of the local tourism and hospitality industry.
Introducing the speakers, John Walsh, chairperson of Ballyhoura Development, congratulated the minister on a number of initiatives including the change in status of Shannon Airport which officially became separated from the Dublin Airport Authority at the beginning of this year.
“People have listened to me since I got this job and I have always mentioned Shannon Airport because I have seen the decline over the last number of years,” said Mr Walsh.
“It was a big worry because if our airport isn’t functioning properly to give people a tourist option it would be a serous blow to us. We have so many things going on here in Ballyhoura whether it’s fishing, golf, track walking or cycling. We do need the faculty of Shannon Airport and we would like to thank him for changing the status of Shannon.”
Carmel Fox, CEO of Ballyhoura Development, spoke of the importance of both a development and marketing approach in relation to promoting tourism infrastructure and initiatives in the area. “In the development and delivery of quality rural tourism in this area, there have been two bodies which have been crucial to it – Ballyhoura Failte and Ballyhoura Development,” said Ms Fox who added that there were three phrases to describe holidays in the Ballyhoura Countryside - “authentic, world class and something different”.
Amanda Slattery, tourism and heritage officer, Ballyhoura Development, outlined key initiatives and projects that she is working on and supporting, including The Gathering.
Fergal Somers, manager, Ballyhoura Failte outlined that the value of tourism in the Ballyhoura area is €20m per annum. The area is now attracting major events such as the European Elite Mountain Bike Championships which will take place in the area in June 2014.
Minister Varadkar stressed the importance of a bottom-up approach to the development of tourism in communities and noted the importance of the tourism sector to the economy. “Tourism wasn’t seen to be all that important when finance and construction and multi-nationals were everything but it is now seen to be important again because it can create jobs pretty quickly all over the country not just in the large urban areas,” he said.