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Major Ireland tourism initiative to turn national parks into world class visitor experiences

Diamond Hill in Connemara National Park, Ireland

Ireland launches new multi million euro tourism initiative. Experiencing the Wild Heart of Ireland aims to help Ireland’s national parks and reserves become world-class visitor experiences.

The masterplan, titled Experiencing the Wild Heart of Ireland, comes from a partnership between the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Fáilte. It has been jointly published by Josepha Madigan, Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and Brendan Griffin, Minister of State for Tourism and Sport.

The plan lays out a framework for a phased development of enhanced visitor centre experiences and improved facilities at national parks and reserves. Work will be jointly funded by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Fáilte Ireland.

The sites in question are Glenveagh National Park, Ballycroy National Park, Connemara National Park, Burren National Park, Killamey National Park, Wicklow Mountains National Park and the Code Park-Garryland Nature Reserve. The plan aims to capture the unique stories of each site, bringing them to life for visitors. Particular attention will be given to the five parks along the Wild Atlantic Way.

Visitor centres “outdated and not fit for purpose”

The report recognises that most visitor centres are ‘outdated and not fit for purpose’. Others are oversubscribed and unable to cope with visitor numbers. New visitor centres will be both aesthetically pleasing and informative. They will include a “walk-through surround AV experience”, lecture and workshop space and be child and family accessible. Staff will be highly trained and enthusiastic and there will be interactive maps of each National Park, linked online to the family of Parks.

“Ireland’s National Parks and Reserves are undoubtedly some of the most beautiful places in the world,” said Madigan. “They are truly the Wild Heart of Ireland and each site contains unique habitats, flora and fauna, as well as dramatically different landscapes.”

She said the aim was not only to attract more visitors but also to “ensure the long term protection of the Parks. By stressing our conservation and education responsibilities and providing better visitor experience, we can balance conservation and biodiversity with increasing visitor numbers.”

Minister Griffin stressed that this form of collaboration is essential if Ireland wants to realise the full potential of its natural assets. “The great thing about this plan is that it strikes the right balance between maintaining our beautiful parks and reserves while also opening them up to visitors in a more engaging and compelling fashion.”

He pointed out that the sites are suited to both recreational and eco-tourism. They help create more jobs and improve economic growth in vulnerable rural areas. “These investments preserve our natural environment, improve health, wellbeing and support the local and national economy,” he added.

The plan aims to market Ireland as an outdoor destination, playing to the increase in interest in active/adventure holidays. 25 percent of visitors to Ireland’s National Parks already hike. The aim is to boost the appeal of hiking, cycling, watersports alongside cultural visits to houses and castles.

“As a country, we have done a first class job in maintaining these natural assets but we don’t want them to be the best kept secrets in the world,” said Orla Carroll, Director of Strategic Development with Fáilte Ireland. “The joint approach unveiled today sets out the steps we can take to raise our parks and reserves up a level to become fantastic world class visitor experiences as good as the Cairngorms in Scotland or the Bavarian Forest National Park in Germany.”

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