A new tourism strategy for Westmeath has recommended that a tourism office be established to oversee and guide the future of tourism in the county.
The office would bring together the various State bodies, voluntary organisations, and businesses in the private sector which are currently working independently, and focus on developing a “common vision” in order to elevate Westmeath to a ‘must-see’ tourist destination.
The Draft Westmeath Tourism Strategy for 2016-2020 was presented at Monday’s county council meeting (July 25 ), providing a road map for the development of the county’s tourism industry over the next five years.
While not a traditional tourism destination, Westmeath “has the potential to develop a unique and high quality tourism product”, according to the report, which highlights the abundance of natural assets, waterways, built heritage, and important ancient sites in the county, as well as the warmth of its people and their stories.
Westmeath falls within Fáilte Ireland’s umbrella brand, ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’, a region rich in 5,000 years of history and heritage. The report emphasies that Westmeath must align itself with this region in order to capitalise on Fáilte Ireland’s high profile international marketing campaign.
The tourism strategy also puts forward three separate propositions or “sub-products” to further strengthen Westmeath’s distinctive tourism offering.
The first is ‘Greenways, Blueways, Lakes and Waterways’, which would include the National Cycle Network and the development of world class cycle hubs and points of interest along the route; lakes, rivers, and inland waterways and the many water-based activities and events; and walking trails.
The second covers Athlone and surrounding district under the umbrella title of ‘Destination Athlone’. The focus here would be on the town’s main attractions such as Athlone Castle and Luan Gallery, as well as nearby features such as Dún na Sí Amenity and Heritage Park, Ballinahown Craft Village, Glasson, and the River Shannon and lakes.
The strategy proposes the creation of user-friendly, self-guided town walking trails, and identifying a location for a geographical landmark of the point where the provinces of Leinster and Connaught meet; such points of interest may prompt visitors to post a photo on social media, which the report recognises as an increasingly effective marketing tool.
Athlone also needs to capitalise on sporting and cultural events such as Community Games and triAthlone which draw large numbers into the town, in order to encourage longer stays.
The third proposition focuses on the town of Mullingar and surrounding areas under the heading ‘Music, Myths and Legends’, taking in the Hill of Uisneach, Belvedere House, Lilliput, Fore, Children of Lir experience, Tullynally Castle, and Kilbeggan Distillery - many of which sit comfortably with the ‘Ireland Ancient East’ branding, according to the report.
Mullingar’s links with musical talents such as Joe Dolan, Bressie, and Niall Horan of One Direction fame should be emphasised, while the feasibility of establishing a museum or exhibition space in the town should also be assessed.
The strategy also suggests that local tourist providers ‘cluster’ attractions and provide planned itineraries to visitors, and that additional tourism signage be provided across the county.