A new pilot sustainability scheme for tourism businesses within the Marble Arch Unesco Global Geopark (MACUGG) area has been hailed a success.
The initiative which began last year saw eight enterprises from both sides of the border take part in a tailor-made ‘Sustainability Business Training Programme’, which had the aim of implementing sustainability practices in line with the Geopark’s charter.
“We were delighted with the positive feedback and engagement by the eight businesses who took part in this pilot scheme. Following evaluation of this programme we plan to extend it to the wider Geopark community.” Tina Smith, Development Officer of Tourism and Business, Cavan County Council said.
As visitor numbers continue to rise, particularly to popular sites such as Cuilcagh walkway, Marble Arch Caves, Cavan Burren Park and Tullydermot falls, the Geopark is looking at ways of how to encourage visitors to stay and explore the area for longer.
“Engagement with the local business community is a key priority for the MACUGG in driving sustainable economic development within the Geopark,” Ms Smith commented.
The training was delivered by one of Ireland’s leading tourism consultants, ‘The Tourism Space’ on behalf of MACUGG, with a cross section of enterprises taking part. Four of the businesses came from Cavan; Drommolly Boxty, The Keepers Arms, Cavan Adventure Centre and The Anglers Rest and the remainder from Fermanagh; Rushin House Caravan Park, Tullymill Restaurant, Dulrush Fishing Lodge and the Corralea Adventure Centre.
Earlier this week, all the businesses attended an online presentation ceremony, where they symbolically received their certificates. Also in attendance were Councillor John Feely, Chair of the Geopark committee, Tara Smith, Development Officer for Tourism & Business, John Toland LEADER Section, Breffni Integrated CLG – T/A ‘Cavan County Local Development and Tina O’Dwyer of The Tourism Space.
The training programme is one part of a new cross-border initiative aimed at enhancing the visitor experience around the ‘Cuilcagh mountain experience, a popular tourist attraction within the Geopark which has seen a surge in visitors. Other elements of the initiative include upgrades to infrastructure, branding and a PR and marketing plan. Funding for the projects was through a €474,000/ £420,000 Leader grant awarded to Fermanagh and Omagh District Council and Cavan County Council, who jointly manage the Geopark.
Delivered over a three month period, the scheme included online presentations, group exercises and one to one mentoring sessions.
“Even though Covid-19 disrupted plans for field trips within the Geopark and to other locations, the networking and training initiative stayed on track,” Tina O’Dwyer of The Tourism Space said.
Ms O’Dwyer said that during the training, the participants learned about the importance of sustainable tourism and the ways in which they could take action within their own businesses. It was also an opportunity for many of the businesses to forge new connections and build a tourism network.
The programme was divided into three key strands. The first gave practical steps on how each business could save energy, water and reduce waste, while the second strand outlined how each could contribute to the Geopark community and destination, for example through biodiversity, geodiversity, community engagement and education. Finally the last module was about how sustainable practices could be used as part of each businesses marketing and PR strategy.
One of the highlights of the course was a ‘Virtual’ Field Trip, which saw businesses from the award winning Burren and Cliffs of Moher Unesco Global Geopark share their experiences with the group.
“Building connections between the businesses and between the two Geopark’s was a key objective of this programme. We know that collaboration takes time and commitment, as does developing sustainable practices within businesses and within the Geopark.” Tina O’Dwyer of the Tourism Space concluded.