At what should be the start of West Cork’s tourism season, all is quiet.
The lockdown is a vital part of the country’s efforts to manage the COVID-19 public health emergency and key to our economic recovery, but it has brought one of our region’s most important industries to a shuddering halt.
Over the last few weeks, larger West Cork tourism businesses have been firefighting practical issues like staffing, payroll and managing tour bookings for the rest of 2020. Many businesses have been adapting their services so they can operate online or via a take-away service to some extent. Many others are doing their best to support their communities at what is for everyone a difficult time.
Planning Towards Recovery
No-one could have planned for such complete disruption, and there is a measure of shock and grief to be dealt with as people see their hard-won progress in recent years and their financial security threatened.
But now the initial shock is over us, there are lots of no-cost and low-cost steps we can take to get ready for a return to trading. It is likely that tourism will operate on a changed footing for at least the next 18 months, so it makes sense to focus both on improving how visible we are to visitors and on how well we communicate what we offer.
1) Check Out the Fáilte Ireland Industry Support Hub
Fáilte Ireland has set up a resource hub which should be your first port of call. At the moment, it offers information on topics such as managing temporary closure, business liquidity, temporary layoffs and jumpstarting sales. These resources will be added to in the weeks ahead, so do check in reguarly to find information that’s relevant to you.
2) Check Your Fáilte Ireland Listing
When your business is listed with Fáilte Ireland, it appears on the customer-facing websites (ireland.com, discoverireland.ie) which many visitors use to plan their holidays. Sign up, and you will receive up-to-date industry information and access to training workshops and videos, as well as practical supports from our local Fáílte Ireland officers. You can also take advantage of paid opportunities to advertise via the social media channels and other forms of advertising run by Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland.
There is a charge and review involved in listing an accommodation business, but otherwise it is free to register.
- Check to see if you are already listed (google your business name + ireland.com).
- Review your existing listing and identify any changes you want to make to update it.
- Create a new listing if you can’t find your business listed.
To ask for changes to be made or to start your new listing, begin here.
3) Make Sure You are Listed on the Pure Cork Website
- Purecork.ie is the official website for the promotion of tourism across Cork city and county. It’s supported by Cork County Council and Cork City Council and Fáilte Ireland, and the user-friendly website launched just over a year ago is proving really popular with international visitors who are planning their first visits to Ireland, as well as domestic visitors who are likely to start visiting us in the first phases of our recovery.
- You may have added your business to purecork.ie yourself, or it may have been added for you. Google your business name and purecork.ie to see if you are on there!
- To add your business visit https://purecork.ie/adding-your-event-festival-or-business
- Make a note to add future events here.
Given the instability we can expect over the next 18 months, online listings for events – easy to post and easy to update – will become increasingly important to West Cork tourism businesses.
4) Benchmark Your Website
This is a great time to review your website and think about the impression you are making on your potential visitors.
Prepare to compare:
- Shop for a service like yours a) in another Irish county b) in the UK.
- Think about how easy it is to use those websites, and make lists of features and information that are helpful and unhelpful.
- Return to your own website with fresh eyes and evaluate how well you support your own visitors through their customer journey.
- List 10 changes you can make to your website to improve your potential visitors’ experience.
- Is my business type clear? – Is it easy to grasp the services we provide?
- Is it clear we are currently open? Make sure your website is clear of references to 2017!
- Are there gaps in how services are explained? Hesitation on your visitor’s part will often lose you a booking.
- Is it easy to find contact information, and do I offer a range of ways for people to contact me (email, phone etc.)?
- Is my location clear? – Have I added my Eircode and GPS information? Do I let visitors know routes and travel times from transport hubs (e.g. Cork Airport), and do I share details about the Transport for Ireland Journey Planner?
- Do I make it easy for people to see customer reviews? Links to sites like TripAdvisor can help to build trust.
- Do I make good use of images to promote my business and West Cork?
- Do I help to promote my neighbouring businesses (a strategy that can help visitors to understand and commit to a destination)?
You can use images from Irelandscontentpool.com on your website. Just create an account and download images you can share with your web designer. If you have great images of West Cork, you can add them to this database too to help increase the visibility of our region.
5) Check Your Mobile-Friendliness
Most people will now research their holidays to some extent on hand-held devices, and so it’s vital to check that your website is readable and easy to navigate on smaller screens. You can find out how well your site performs on mobiles using tools like Google’s mobile-friendly test and MobiReady.
You may not have the resources to tackle any problems you find at the moment, but do ask your web designer to quote you for changes and make mobile-friendliness a priority when you do have marketing funds available: this work is often inexpensive, and, the more people who can find you online and engage with your message, the wider your range of potential customers will be.
6) Upgrade Your Accessibility
The tourism market is going to change in the years ahead thanks to an ageing global population with an appetite for travel. Ireland also has a large number of young families who want to make sure they can have satisfying family breaks with a pushchair in tow.
By providing clear information and practical supports to visitors with visible and hidden accessibility needs, you can widen the range of people who feel able to take up your offers, and many changes can be made as part of your regular upgrade programme.
- If you’re repainting, use contrasting colours for doors and doorframes to increase visual contrast. The same principle can be used in relation to bedcovers, tablecloths and other furnishings.
- Check to see that visitors planning ahead have access to the allergen information on your menu. Let people know if you have large-print menus available, or whether you provide table service for people who would find queueing a challenge.
- Pull together the information you have on accessibility to create an accessibility guide and make sure it can be found on your website and accessed in a range of formats (webpage, doc).
- Avoid using text overlay on web images – fill in the alt text box for every image, and make sure any text used on social media graphics is repeated in the caption.
- Check out the training resources at https://www.accesstraining.eu
7) Delve Into the Past and Deepen Your Local Knowledge
There’s a wealth of local history information available online that you can use to deepen your local knowledge and enrich your visitors’ experience in the future. Good places to start include:
- The excellent Roaringwater Journal.
- The Duchas Clonakilty Heritage journals.
- The Bantry Historical Society website.
- The Schools’ Collection (the archive of the 1930s National Folklore Project).
8) Create Packages with Local Businesses
Make it easy for visitors to plan their next trip to West Cork by bundling your offer to include services provided by another local business. A hotel stay packaged with a walking tour, or a sailing trip packaged with dinner at a local restaurant make appetising offers and will help you win over more potential customers in the period after the lockdown ends.
Now is the time to be talking to businesses that appeal to the customers you value most – make sure you work with partners that are a good fit for you and your customers. Then work on the details of packages now, so that you are ready to promote them to visitors in a few weeks’ time. Bear in mind that we are likely to see more travel from
- Multigenerational family groups as people look to reconnect and make fresh memories together after a period of social isolation.
- Small private groups while people remain cautious about spending extended time with people who have travelled from elsewhere.
- Local, county, and domestic visitors who are cautious about travelling but keen to support Cork & Irish businesses.
Value won’t just be about price when tourism gets back to business: fresh, local food; unusual, memory-making elements in an experience; privacy; and distinctive ways to refresh the senses will all be important to visitors in the months ahead.
9) Learn to Make a Simple Promotional Video
Take advantage of the time foisted on you to learn to use video-making apps that can help build your reach. Now is the time to learn some new skills that will be a help to your business in the years ahead.
10) Be Kind and Be Positive
There was a lot of anxiety in the days around the lockdown about breaches of social distancing. Anxiety around travel and social gatherings of all kinds will persist and sometimes flare until a vaccine programme has been rolled out, and that is some time away. Safeguarding our communities has to be our first priority, but it’s important to remember that many of our visitors do genuinely see West Cork as home – it might be the place where their family has its roots or the one part of the world where their heart is most at ease.
It is important to be kind in all of the words we address to the outside world, even when we are asking people to stay away for now.
It might be hard to be positive at the moment, but we will be welcoming visitors back again, and what West Cork has to offer – peace, community and an abundance of places to socially distance in a meaningful way – will be what people are looking for. If we use this time productively and collaborate, we can come back stronger and weather this unexpected storm.
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