Members of the Sheep's Head and Bantry Tourism Co-op celebrate their silver award at the Irish Responsible Tourism Awards. L to R: John Tobin, Eilis Cohalan Hodnett, Agnes Hegarty, Jennie Barry, Siobhán Burke, Lorna Bourke, Carmel Cronin
The Sheep’s Head Way won silver in the Best Destination category at Irish Responsible Tourism Awards in Dublin on October 6, the second time that the world-renowned walking route has gained the accolade. The responsible tourism awards celebrate tourism that is good for visitors but also benefits the local community and environment.
It’s been an award-studded season for the area: Bantry’s Maritime Hotel is part of the Gleneagle Group, which won an award for Accessible and Inclusive Tourism at the awards; Carbery Guest Lodge B&B was recently named as Georgina Campbell’s B&B of the Year, and Gallán Mór B&B was named as a ‘Little Gem’ in the 2016 Michelin Guide.
“The remarkable thing about the Sheep’s Head Way is that it has been focused on high-quality sustainable tourism since it was founded 20 years ago,” says Siobhan Burke, marketing co-ordinator for the Sheep’s Head and Bantry Tourism Co-operative. “When Jim Leonard, Tom Whitty, James O’Mahony, and all the landowners on the Sheep’s Head established the walk, their aim was to share the beauty of the Sheep’s Head peninsula with visitors in a way that would bring real long-term benefits to the community here.”
“Since then, initiatives like the Sheep’s Head Producers Market and our co-op have drawn on the same principles to develop authentic and meaningful experiences for visitors that benefit local people and are respectful of our environment.”
The award is a fantastic accolade for everyone along the Sheep’s Head Way and in particular it recognises the work of the tourism co-op which promotes the area’s 200km trail network. The co-op works closely with a range of craft, food, activity, and accommodation businesses throughout the year to develop products that make the most of the area’s strengths and promote them on national and international stages.
At the awards, Fáilte Ireland’s Paddy Mathews, head of the organisation’s environmental unit, noted that regions like the Sheep’s Head and Clare’s Loop Head where tourism is being promoted by ‘community animators’ are the ones that are benefitting most from the Wild Atlantic Way.
“When we work together, and co-ordinate the ways we work with agencies like Fáilte Ireland, we’re able to create really powerful messages about what makes our area unique,’ explains John Tobin, chairman of the tourism co-op. “We’re hugely grateful to the West Cork Development Partnership for having the vision and foresight to fund our animator role three years ago. Support from our fantastic co-op members and Cork County Council, have also been invaluable in helping us to keep that work going. We were delighted to win a special commendation for innovation at the Irish Tourism Industry Awards this year, and, as other areas respond to the potential of the Wild Atlantic Way with similar initiatives, it’s really vital that we continue to build on the work we’re doing here.”
“Tourists don’t necessarily want to know every last detail of how we minimise waste and save energy,” says Siobhán, “but they do care passionately about visiting places which are properly protected and cherished by the people who live there. They want powerful and pure experiences that give them genuine insights into places and communities.”
“It’s fantastic that we were able to take to the stage in Dublin and show that West Cork can provide those experiences for everyone who visits us here. When we work together and share the best of what we love about where we live,” adds Siobhán, “we’re creating the kind of tourism that is rewarding for everyone involved.”