Responsible Tourism Policy < Back
The Loop Head Peninsula, on the Wild Atlantic Way, is the most westerly point of County Clare.
Kilkee, the principal town and gateway to the peninsula, has a long history of tourism dating from the late 1700’s but has predominantly been a domestic market destination. The rest of the peninsula has had very little tourism development, which has historically been frustrating but has turned into a unique opportunity for the area to be developed from a community perspective. The peninsula has one of the biggest ratios of coastline to landmass on the west of Ireland, with all of it protected by EU heritage and species designations.
In 2009 Loop Head Tourism was set up to ensure that the future development of the peninsula would happen in conjunction with the wishes of those who live here. It is a community based voluntary group consisting of members from the parishes of Kilkee, Carrigaholt and Kilbaha. The network has a current membership of fifty and an organising committee of nine. This is made up equal representation from each parish, regardless of size, in order to ensure a balance of viewpoints from a development perspective regardless of membership size.
Our ethos, which every business in the network has to sign up to, is stated as:
“Loop Head Tourism is committed to promoting responsible and sustainable tourism development while safeguarding the unique culture, heritage and biodiversity of the peninsula through co-operation with all stakeholders in the wider community.”
We encourage all members to support each other, where possible, an example of this in practice is the logo on the menus of our food circle members, which signifies that all the principle ingredients come from local producers on the peninsula. It ensures the sustainability of small local farmers, fishermen and vegetable gardens, we estimate that it has meant an increased direct spend to local producers of over €150,000 which may otherwise have gone outside the locality.
As one of the partners, along with Clare County Council and Shannon Development, in the opening and development of the Loop Head Lighthouse to the public, we were insistent that a café or gift shop would not be opened in the facility from the outset. This has meant the two small local pubs in the nearby village of Kilbaha have increased their business and subsequent employment levels ensuring their viability.
It has also been a key factor in the opening of a craft and gift shop by two local girls which enables them and their families to remain living here. This is part of our vision of keeping the benefits of tourism within the locality rather than seeing the benefit leave the area to businesses based outside Loop Head. Over the last five years the responsible ethos of Loop Head Tourism has been a key driver in the setting up of ten new businesses, all of whom are owned by local residents, employing in the region of seventy full and part time positions. These are all local people with families who are vital to the continued survival of our schools, shops and other businesses.
In the winter of 2012 Loop Head Tourism, with the help of Clare Local Development Company, organised a heritage course called “Reading the Landscape”. We had 18 local attendees who set out on a 16 week journey to discover more about the heritage of the Loop Head Peninsula, it culminated with an exhibition to the public of 16 projects focusing on particular aspects of our local heritage, such as vernacular buildings of Loop Head, the Victorian history of Kilkee, local shipwrecks, and in depth history of our Napoleonic Batterys to name a few. These projects all fed into existing tourism offerings, such as walking and biking tours, but also were key in the setting up of a number of new small businesses such as heritage pony trekking and a visitor centre about a local blind man “Henry Blake”. Again our principle aim of fostering new businesses in an organic manner from within the community was a core function of this course. It has subsequently led to a bigger project funded by Failte Ireland, Clare County Council and The Heritage Council of Ireland whereby we were chosen as the pilot destination on how to gather information, access and promote heritage to visitors along the Wild Atlantic Way leading to a template for other interested communities to use. The Loop Head Heritage Trail was launched with 18 points of interest on the peninsula along with a full database of information including oral, visual and a fully referenced written history of the area.
We have used the Wild Atlantic Way as a guide to access the peninsula, choosing to weave our own heritage, walking and cycle trails around it, rather than slavishly following the official route. We have completely re-mapped and re-signed the Loop Head Cycleway and it is now a 66km national trail route on principally small local roads, proper ones with grass growing in the middle. We are also actively working with the local council to reduce the speed limit on the route to 50km/h, thus prioritising pedestrians and cyclists. Again this will be a first in rural Ireland and is being done with as much our own interests at heart as visitors, making a safer place for ourselves and our children to walk and cycle to and from school etc.
We have also been insistent from the start that the area would not be developed in any way for the mass market such as tour bus operators. We have lobbied the council to ensure that there would be no road widening or passing bays placed along the coast to make coach access easier and at the lighthouse we insisted that the car parking facility would only accommodate car traffic. While at the same time acknowledging the potential for the coach tour market we have approached a number of operators with the idea of using Kilkee as a base while the small local mini bus companies take the visitors around the peninsula on a much more personal and engaged visit to the area.
We have never subscribed to the principle that tourism should be developed for its own sake, rather it should be thought of as the output of a proper sustainable development plan for Loop Head. Loop Head Tourism are taking responsibility for that development plan by ensuring Loop Head is a better place to live in and by definition a better place to visit.