COMMENT: Laois remains 'hidden' in tourism plan

Pat Somers


Pat Somers


COMMENT: Laois remains 'hidden' in tourism plan

The omission of Laois from Fáilte Ireland's latest tourism plan is staggering on any number of levels.

The €2 million Fáilte Ireland brand plan for the midlands - Ireland's Hidden Heartlands - was launched amidst the customary fanfare last week, with the attendant promises of growth and jobs in the relevant areas.

The new plan is touted as being aimed at the midlands, but a midlands which curiously does not include Laois.

In fact the county looks destined to remain resolutely hidden under this Hidden Heartlands project.

Fáilte Ireland have justified the omission stating that Laois is best suited to Ireland's Ancient East.

The view has also been put forward that Laois is better off with a tourist brand associated with history.

While history does, of course, form a hugely important component of our tourism offering, are we content that our product should be limited to it.

Hardly. When it comes to promoting and selling the county no limitations of any sort should be entertained.

The largest influx of people to this county (or indeed any county) every year is for the Electric Picnic, which has no real historical theme.

Also ironic is the fact that in the same week that this Hidden Heartlands project was launched, Coillte confirmed that construction on Phase I of the Slieve Bloom Bike Trail will begin this May.

This 73km trail, costing in the region of €4 million, has the potential to generate huge tourism revenue over time for both Laois and Offaly. It also represents the progressive and creative use of our resources.

Furthermore, the Ancient East argument simply does not stand up when parts of Offaly and Westmeath will dually benefit from being part of it, and the Hidden Heartlands.

Of course one can see this as part of a pattern. Afterall, the record of funding that Laois has received for tourism has been paltry. Between 2007 and 2014 it has been only €93,000 from a total of €125 million.

And now in this latest initiative Laois has most defintely been left behind, protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.

At the recent launch of the Laois Tourism Strategy, a Failte Ireland representative publicly said it was important to realise the potential of Laois and the challenges it faced. But not important enough to merit inclusion in Ireland's Hidden Heartlands.