Targeting rural tourism – advice from Ireland

What can be learned about rural tourism from the Irish County of Mayo?

As our ability to access the globe has increased, so has the opportunity to compare and contrast ideas, situations or solutions with people and locations around the world. County Mayo in the country of Ireland is no exception. It possesses a number of traits that can be compared and contrasted with settings in rural Michigan.

Consisting mainly of small towns and farms, County Mayo has been described as one of Ireland’s hidden treasures. Although it is the third largest of Irelands’ 32 counties, with 2,159 square miles, it ranks only 16th in terms of population.

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Photos: Map of County Mayo, Ireland; Rural tourism experience in County Mayo; Entry to one of the many County Mayo trails.

Several years ago, with colleagues from Michigan State University Extension, I had the opportunity to visit County Mayo and meet with local representatives about their tourism initiatives. One surprise revelation was the admittance that they had failed to emphasize their western Atlantic coast – not only for the cuisine opportunities and benefits of local seafood, but also for its recreational value. At that time, we met with several entrepreneurs who were beginning to capitalize on this asset. The local surfing industry is an example of a coastal business that began emerging at that time and today includes a couple of surfing schools and maps noting prime surfing spots.

Another tourism experience in County Mayo and one of its best known, is their extensive walking and biking trails. They have been an international leader in this area - especially with their ability to gain access to private lands. The Great Western Greenway is recognized as the longest off-road cycling trail in Ireland and was the first portion of the National Cycle Network developed in the country. Details about this trail, all the other walking and cycling trails in the county, as well as helpful information about trail usage can be found at Mayo Trails.

In addition, I collected a number of quotes from people across County Mayo who provided the following thoughtful advice that can be applied to any tourism-related business:

  1. Wherever a visitor stops, put in a cash register.
  2. If you really want visitors to experience a rural area then market yourself as a rural area.
  3. You need to be able to say ‘we have a different product’ and deliver it.
  4. Know your market – know who really wants a rural experience.
  5. Identify what makes you different than anyone else.
  6. Get people to re-connect with your product every time they experience it.
  7. Remember that people talk about the experience, not the place.
  8. Find a way to get visitors to stop, taste and enjoy the local experiences.
  9. Develop a niche market (ex. religion, adventure, farm, and spa).
  10. Decide if your organization is marketing or developing the community - only do one.
  11. Stick with what you are about!
  12. Know your competitors - they may not be as good as you think!

By comparing and contrasting ideas, situations or solutions with people and locations in our own communities or around the world, we can gain knowledge to inspire future endeavors, in this case rural tourism-related ventures.