Chapter 8 Tourism
Aim: To support the development of the tourism sector as an economic driver for the County, identify and develop key destination towns and visitor attractions and activities for the prioritisation of investment and to encourage the increase of tourism product development.
Tourism plays an important role in the economic development of the Country as it generates significant employment opportunities and business development opportunities in more rural areas. Fáilte Ireland has identified that our landscape and heritage are the key driver for the promotion of Ireland’s tourism, followed by its people, its safe environment and its range of attractions. There is an inextricable link between the Region’s landscape, agriculture and tourism offer. Central to the development of an integrated ecotourism experience is the provision of quality cycling, walking and hiking routes connecting strategic tourism infrastructure, towns and villages.
Research has identified niche areas such as food, heritage and cycling tourism which can be built into unique tourism product offerings for each of their regional tourism brands. County Laois has much to offer the tourism product and marketing of Ireland as a tourist destination in the overseas market, including; the Rock of Dunamase, the Round Tower Timahoe, Aghaboe Abbey, Donaghmore Workhouse, the Slieve Bloom Mountains, the Rivers Nore and Barrow.
The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Failte Ireland are responsible for the delivery of policy and investment in tourism in Ireland. Failte Ireland promotes Ireland based on a Regional Experience Brand of which Laois falls within ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’. The aim of the branding is to inspire visitors to travel to the Ireland’s Ancient East by appealing to their interest in local culture and heritage.
This section is prepared in the context of the following documents:
- Project Ireland 2040: National Planning Framework (2018)
- National Development Plan 2018-2027
- Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy (RSES) for the Eastern and Midland Region (2019)
- Food Wise 2025: A 10 Year Vision for the Irish Agri-Food Industry (2015)
- Laois Local Economic and Community Plan 2016-2021
- People, Place and Policy – Growing Tourism to 2025 (DTTS, 2015)
- Tourism Development and Innovation – A Strategy for Investment 2016 – 2022 (Failte Ireland, 2016)
This collaborative strategy between key tourism stakeholders within County Laois including Laois County Council, Laois Local Community Development Committee, Laois partnership and the Department of Rural and Community Development, aims to grow tourism visitor numbers and the value of tourism through the enhancement of the Laois tourism product and service base supported by the structures that contribute to the strategic development of the tourism sector across the county.
Map 8.1: Tourist Attractions in County Laois
There is significant potential to grow the tourism sector in County Laois. In 2018, Laois welcomed <0.5% of the 9.6 million overseas tourists who came to Ireland, spending <0.5% of the €5.2bn overseas tourism expenditure in Ireland. This figure is down from the 2015 figures, where approximately 57,000 overseas visitors came to Laois. Irish residents took 237,000 trips to Laois and Offaly (2% of the 10.9million domestic trips in 2018) spending €30mn (1% of domestic tourist spend).
Analysis of the overseas visitor data for the East and Midlands Region reveals that a high proportion were Irish-born, repeat visitors or were visiting friends/family. The per capita spend of the overseas tourist who is visiting friends/family is similar or higher than the per capita spend of the traditional holiday-maker. A low percentage of visitors had travelled to the region for the first time. This suggests that while the East and Midlands Region may not be well-known as a tourism destination, once people visit they are inclined to return. It also indicates that many overseas visitors to the area have a strong connection to the region. The high number of solo visitors and visitors to friends/family would suggest that these tourists may spend a lot of time with local people.
Despite the downturn in visitor numbers and revenue in recent years, tourism still makes an important contribution to the economy of Laois and has a strong emphasis in national planning policy. The Strategic Plan for Tourism in Laois 2018 – 2023 focuses on building projects in key destinations and the implementation of a targeted marketing brand in order to develop a high quality visitor destination and experience in Laois. The Strategy also places a strong emphasis on the diversification of the rural economy and the regeneration of towns and villages. Economic sustainability must be considered to ensure that the tourism sector is managed. The Strategy has identified 5 Strategic Ambitions to be achieved by 2023:
Fig 8.1 Strategic Ambitions of Laois Tourism Strategy