Ballina is hoping to cash in on the growing interest in gastro tourism by marketing the town as a top foodie destination.
Mayo North, the tourism body tasked with promoting Ballina and the wider north Mayo region, has said it hopes to develop a series of annual festivals and events to capitalise on the significant potential of attracting more visitors through food tourism, which is worth an estimated €1.5 billion to the Irish economy each year.
As part of the strategy, Mayo North this week announced Ballina’s inaugural food festival will take place in the Military Quarter in the centre of town on August 23.
The festival, called the Ballina Food Fleadh, will showcase locally produced artisan foods from around Mayo and see cookery demonstrations, tastings, farmers markets, live music and children’s activities throughout the day.
Nicola Flynn, marketing coordinator at Mayo North, said the festival is the first step towards putting Ballina on the map for food tourism.
“We plan to hold at least three major food events annually,” she explained.
The events will promote the wide array of foodie offerings in the region, from quality artisan producers to farmers markets to award winning fine dining in venues such Mount Falcon and Belleek Castle.
According to Fáilte Ireland, food and drink accounts for the biggest proportion of spending in the tourism sector in Ireland, surpassing even the average spend on bed and board.
In its National Food Tourism strategy, it pointed out that the development of local and regional food destinations is a growing trend globally, which is seeing food-related activities and events becoming a key feature in increasing numbers of visitors to particular localities.
Ms Flynn said Mayo North hopes to link in with other agencies such as the Mayo Local Enterprise Office (LEO ) and Gnó Mhaigh Eo, as well as producers and farmers markets, to develop the comprehensive food tourism inititiative.
“Food tourism will be one of the key areas for growth when the new strategic plan for tourism in Mayo, currently being developed by LEO, is launched,” she explained. “We want to put some forward thinking in place and market Ballina as a food destination.”
Ms Flynn said more details on the Ballina Food Fleadh will be announced over the coming weeks.