As West Cork gets ready for the new tourist season, it’s worth pausing to think about the approach we want to take and what we’ve learnt over the last few years.
What we’re heading into is definitely ‘a new normal’, so going back to what you did before the pandemic isn’t going to be the best approach. Let’s run through some of the risks that lie ahead, some of the advantages we have here in West Cork, and some practical steps you can take to future-proof your business and get the most out of the season ahead for you and for your neighbours.
A month ago, we might have thought we had a fairly clear road ahead, with restrictions lifting and a lot of pent-up demand waiting to bring business back our way, but now we’re in more fraught territory again.
- Customer care demands have changed, and it might be years before they go back to 2019 levels, if ever. Our customers are taking different approaches to the end of formal COVID restrictions, and – as a general rule – it’s going to make sense to work to support the most wary customers as far as possible.
- A war in Europe may rattle confidence in international travel. We’re less dependent on North American visitors here in West Cork than other places further up the Western seaboard, but jitters can travel.
- Fuel costs are going to become a huge issue. They’re a blow to many outdoor activity providers and our visitors, but they will also be hitting accommodation and service providers and their efforts to extend the tourism season beyond the warmer months.
- Recession is a risk. That concern is all over the front pages of today’s newspapers. People may not have the money in their pockets we expected, and many will be hesitating before spending as much as they had planned to this summer.
Reasons for optimism – why we’re equipped to bounce back
This is no time to despair though! We are in a much better place to recover than we were after the 2008 recession. Our tourism sector is more professionalised and better understood by potential visitors than it used to be. So, let’s take a look at what we have going for us and the levers we can pull to do well this tourist season and next.
Our strong position owes a huge amount to better branding. In Ireland, the name ‘West Cork’ packs a lot of reputational punch, but internationally it hasn’t traditionally had much traction. The international visibility we’ve gained in recent years owes a huge amount to the Wild Atlantic Way – and, of course, the Wild Atlantic Way was developed specifically as a response to the tourism crisis that followed the 2008 crash.
We have great brands behind us
As part of the Wild Atlantic Way, we have a defined brand
Visitors have a good understanding of what our region is about, there’s a lot of strong, and specific marketing material out there calling on visitors to come here, and a lot of our pent-up demand has been generated by the Wild Atlantic Way’s marketing since 2013.
Pure Cork is really pushing us out there
Cork’s tourism is seen nationally as having performed as well as possible during the COVID crisis, and its messaging has been really powerful and effective (Pure Cork is the campaign run by our county tourism body Visit Cork, which is funded by both our county and city councils). In my work in other parts of Ireland, I hear tourism providers talking about us with some jealousy because they can see we are benefitting from two great marketing campaigns that are reinforcing each other very well.
We have new traction in the domestic market
We can regain the international visitors we relied on before COVID, and – as we wait for that recovery to kick in – we can work to retain the domestic market we’ve built relationships with over the last two years. To benefit from overall gains, make sure you have a GDPR-compliant mechanism, like Mailerlite, for holding people’s contact details and keeping in touch with them to attract repeat business.
We understand markets better than we did in 2008
If you know what I’m talking about when I say we need to market to ‘culturally curious’ tourists and ‘great escapers’, you’re all good. If not, get stuck into Fáilte Ireland’s resources. Fáilte Ireland training has taught lots of us to market in ways that attract attention from the kinds of visitors who are already warm to the idea of visiting West Cork.
Practical steps you can take
1, Target the right potential visitors
Make sure that you are using your knowledge of potential visitors and changing activity trends to secure new and repeat business. For example, you could share things on social media about:
- Open water swimming spots near you
- Outdoor eating opportunities, from food trucks to new outdoor areas
- New experience-based activities that have developed in your area, from new food markets to paddleboarding adventures
2. Reflect changing visitor habits
Bear in mind that visitor habits are changing, and so your 2019 tactics won’t deliver ther results they used to or the improvements you’d like to see.
- Instagram is now attracting much more interest, while Facebook is becoming less popular
- Outdoor activities are much more attractive to many visitors than indoor ones
- Sightseeing is losing out to experience-based activities
3. Work to increase visitors’ length of stay and spend
Above all, remember that increasing visitors’ dwell time and spend is going to deliver better results than an increased volume of visitors. Focusing on those things will help your business and support quality of life for you and for your neighbours.
4. Build greener businesses and communities
Bear rising costs and fuel concerns in mind in every step you take to market and run your business:
- Remember to recommend a mix of free and paid activities
- Recommend things close by – draw attention to things that are close to you to benefit your neighbours and reduce costs for visitors
- When you reduce costs by cutting your carbon footprint, share that news with customers
- Help fuel-reliant businesses to work at full capacity – for example, cross-sell boat tours and think about reducing trips to collect supplies by pooling trips with neighbouring businesses.
Our real strength has always been that we provide powerful local, personal, connected, and authentic experiences, but it doesn’t make sense to go back to the way we used to operate.
The best way we can honour the difficulties we’ve been through in the last few seasons is to learn from them and grow stronger, more resilient, and more responsible businesses and communities here in West Cork.