Address by the Chairman
Elected members, Board Directors of Carlow Tourism, members of Carlow Tourism, ladies and gentlemen. You are all very welcome to tonight’s virtual AGM and while we could never have imagined the disruption which events of the last seven months have brought to Ireland’s economy, I am heartened by the large attendance here this evening which speaks for the importance of the tourism sector to County Carlow’s economy. It also highlights to me the role of Carlow Tourism in such very difficult times.

As we all know from selling our own premises and services it’s normally more than one thing that entices a tourist to come here, it’s the whole package. While a visitor may book the Seven Oaks Hotel for their accommodation they will want to do and see so many other things during their stay here so they need information on where to eat, where to go and what to do – this is what tourism is all about, and represents for me the strength of Carlow Tourism. It’s about having really excellent businesses that we can cross promote, through working together to win more business for the county. In doing so we are not just promoting our own business but the entire experience that Carlow as a destination has to offer.

And in the same way that tourism in County Carlow is greater than the sum of its parts, the workings and effectiveness of Carlow Tourism is not achieved by Carlow Tourism alone, but by the numerous agencies, bodies, community groups and members who make such a valuable contribution to the development of tourism here. They include Carlow County Council who funds the company through its annual estimates programme, which in 2019 amounted to €125,000. Carlow Tourism has only been able to complete the storytelling map boards you see dotted in towns and villages throughout the county, the recent suite of interactive maps, along with works for the Columban and Garden Trails, due to the funding being applied for and successfully sourced by Carlow County Council.

The two national radio campaigns featured last year were funded by Carlow Local Community Development Committee and Carlow County Development Partnership along with a very comprehensive Tourism Strategy and Action Plan for the county for the period of 2020 – 2025. Many of you attended the opening workshops last June and contributed positively to the strategy as it progressed and was finished in 2020. Improvements to the accommodation base and other tourism offerings have also been developed by private promoters due to the important stimulus of grant support available from Carlow LCDC and Carlow County Development Partnership.

We work closely with Fáilte Ireland in respect of Carlow Tourist Office and of course in respect of tourism initiatives and plans for the county and particularly in 2019 in respect of the works completed for Duckett’s Grove and the selection of the Carlow Big House’s Festival as one of the key events for national promotion in the Taste the Island campaign which the county benefited greatly from.

The Department of Social Protection has four CE placements in our office which are invaluable in progressing our own objectives. In mentioning the above I also recognise the invaluable work of  communities and our members throughout the county in bringing a high quality visitor experience to  the county and to our members who, through financial support contribute in a very tangible way to marketing and operational plans.

In 2019 we worked hand in hand with businesses promoting their offerings across multiple platforms via:

  • the annual Guide to Carlow publication that each member receives a free feature in,
  • our great range of trails like the Carlow Garden Trail or South Carlow Adventure Trail which are playing such a valuable role in getting visitors out and about in rural and urban County Carlow
  • our website and social media channels
  • attendance at some of the biggest consumer lifestyle and travel shows in Ireland including Bloom in the Phoenix Park, the Balmoral Show in Belfast and the Ploughing Championships
  • our national radio campaigns on RTE Radio 1, Lyric FM and 2FM with Kathryn Thomas
  • our festival and event programme which in 2019 delivered six great events for the county including two new festivals including the Snowdrop Month which changed from a week long to month long programme in 2019 to great success and the Big Houses Festival. Sadly only one of those six festivals was realised in 2020 but looking ahead Carlow has such potential for developing niche festivals
  • our assistance to other festivals and in 2019 in particular to the National Ploughing Championships for whom the accommodation booking system was provided, which was deemed by the Organisers as an essential element of running the event.

That work has continued in 2020 despite the challenges this year has brought with:

  • Development of over 10 itineraries for members and visitors to the county as the county re-opened following restrictions
  • a social media and website campaign funded by Carlow County Council under the COVID-19 Economic Response Plan
  • a substantial programme based on the Town and Village programme, again being progressed only with the funding provided by Carlow County Council

As we continue to navigate difficult times I want to assure you that we will maximise the benefits of our work for all in the sector and very warmly welcome feedback from our members.

We also look forward to progressing the actions of the Tourism Strategy and Action Plan 2020 – 2025 – the Strategy recognises the good work done to date in tourism but importantly sets out a road map for the future, bearing in mind the economic world context in which we find ourselves.  With actions across a range of measures including destination management, visitor experience and product development including festivals and events, capacity and partnership development and brand and marketing communications, there is much to be hopeful about when our economy recovers.

If I could perhaps reference one statement within the strategy it is the following –

Through implementation of this strategy County Carlow will be a welcoming and high-quality destination offering visitors a diverse range of experiences based on the county’s heritage – an opportunity for visitors to discover historic big houses, spectacular gardens and unique ecclesiastical and historic/cultural attractions, and to easily engage in outdoor recreation, set amidst the county’s unspoilt environment, with choices to stay overnight in vibrant towns and villages

In these difficult times it is important to keep an eye on the bigger and broader picture for the future.

In conclusion I want to thank our Vice-Chairman, Honorary Treasurer and all Board members for their support and work throughout the last year and for their enthusiasm and belief in the strength of the tourism offering here. I want to thank you our members for your contribution, financially and in the daily running of your business in promoting and cross networking amongst other providers. Finally thanks to our staff for their work over the past year.