John Brennan, star of the TV programme ‘At Your Service’, delivered a thought provoking presentation to local tourism providers at a Longford County Council facilitated event in Backstage theatre last week.
The event, run in conjunction with the County Tourism Committee on Tuesday, April 25, covered a wide range of topics from national promotional strategies to the basics of good service delivery.
Cathaoirleach of Longford County Council, Cllr Mick Cahill, suggested to the audience that County Longford is on the cusp of significant growth in the tourism sector.
Cllr Cahill referenced the recently launched Tourism Strategy which he believes will deliver significant investment in key strategic and sustainable tourism projects.
He identified the Center Parcs resort as being the catalyst for change in what Longford can achieve in tourism over the next few years. He believes that tourism will be a key economic driver in County Longford.
Major projects such as the Royal Canal Greenway and Lough Ree and Mid Shannon Wilderness Park will be critically important in increasing the profile of the county and region, it was claimed.
He highlighted the opportunities for local projects to support these and confirmed that a number of these are already under development.
Mr Brennan remarked upon the positive impression created as he drove through Longford on his way to the Backstage. He stressed the importance of self promotion and awareness of what the county and town has to offer to visitors.
A key theme throughout the presentation was the challenge to service providers to make themselves distinctive in a crowded and competitive marketplace and the importance of identifying their unique selling point.
Mr Brennan claimed that there are significant risks if there are too many similar products and services on offer and that local competitors would end up competing on price. The key is to do something different that appeals to particular segments of the market, allowing the promoter to get a better return. He applied this theory to accommodation, food and marketing of local areas.
Collaboration between tourism and service providers will be crucial to ensuring attractive itineraries are provided for visitors to the county, he said.
Mr Brennan encouraged those in the industry to develop links and work closely together to provide a product that is unique. He explained that it can take years to develop projects and that promoters must be committed, resilient and tireless in their efforts.
He stressed that projects must stand on their own merits and cautioned about relying on grant aid as a prerequisite to delivering the project.
Mr Brennan spoke on the importance of social media, responding to posts on the likes of TripAdvisor and keeping your product offering relevant and unique.
He suggested that Longford needs to build up a broader festival and activity based portfolio that will deliver greater numbers of visitors in intense bursts. This will provide the opportunity to promote the county and highlight what's on offer. This in turn will provide the incentive to build a stronger accommodation base.
Mr Brennan opined that Longford, while organising more than its fair share of high quality festival and sporting events, does not appear to benefit from national funding compared to other counties.
Chief Executive of Longford County Council, Paddy Mahon explained that this event is one of the new initiatives introduced by Longford County Council to promote the county.
Mr Mahon facilitated the discussion session and attendees had the opportunity to ask questions and debate issues relevant to their own businesses.
Apart from being very informative, Mr Brennan was very engaging and answered several questions from the audience in a frank and insightful manner.
Cllr Micheál Carrigy, Chair of Longford Tourism Committee, closed the event by encouraging promoters to work in collaboration with the Committee and Council to promote Longford as a tourism destination.
Cllr Carrigy outlined plans for the new VisitLongford website which is currently being developed. He asked those involved in the business to provide information about their offerings which will be used to keep the new website up to date and relevant.