Representatives from across the tourism sector in Donegal came together in Jackson’s Hotel, Ballybofey last Wednesday for Donegal County Council and Donegal Tourism’s conference, ‘Adapting to Changing Times’.
The event was moderated by Anne Marie Conlon, Head of Economic Development and Garry Martin, Director of Service, Donegal County Council.
Following an incredibly difficult two years for the hospitality and tourism sector this event was an opportunity for the trade, community groups and others to learn from experts what the challenges and opportunities are for tourism in Donegal going forward.
(Pictured above: Garry Martin, Director of Service, speaking to Pauline Sweeney, Donegal Airport, Sarah Nolan, Tourism Officer, DCC and Henry Doohan, Donegal Tour Guide.)
Chief Executive of Donegal County Council and Chairman of Donegal Tourism CLG, John G. Mc Laughlin welcomed the attendees.
He opened the day stating that Donegal County Council is passionately committed to tourism and recognises the role tourism can play in making an even bigger contribution to driving long term sustainable employment and economic growth throughout the county and emphasized the importance of sustainable development.
Cathaoirleach of Donegal County Council, Cllr Jack Murray, spoke about an exceptionally difficult few years for the tourism sector not just here in Donegal but across the entire world.
He said “Now more than ever we must continue to work together, to collaborate and to reach out to the world to tell everyone that Donegal and the Wild Atlantic Way offers a world class visitor experience.”
He also emphasised that in order to effectively promote Donegal on a world wide scale, we need to develop new and unique tourism ‘experiences’ on the Wild Atlantic Way and the best way to do this is by being familiar with all that our regions have to offer.
He also spoke about the importance of knowing the other businesses that complement our own and working together to create new tourism products that offer an unforgettable ‘total visitor experience’.
Prof. Samuel McConkey commented by recalling favourable memories of holidays as a child in Donegal. He spoke broadly on various topics including Covid-19, leisure, health and wellbeing, contingency planning, benchmarking against other offerings.
He also looked at a shift in values following difficult last 2 years. Visitors search for more meaningful holidays / moments, have higher expectations and are looking for extra quality during their travels. He stressed that providers should keep that in mind and strive to meet expectations to provide something new, unique and attractive to their guests.
He also advised businesses on risk management and contingency planning in the times of Covid and emphasised the importance of investing in our youth, so they can gain necessary language and intercultural skills to understand visitors coming from different backgrounds and cultures.
John Casey, Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Resort, spoke about the golf packages as a tourism incentive for the county. He mentioned the importance of working with tour operators showcasing the offering of golf courses in the region and attractions in the area, which are a huge asset to the overall golf offering, as well as the necessity of getting staff to go out and experience the best product in the county.
John also highlighted that Donegal is quickly becoming one of the top locations for golf in Ireland and Britain. He also emphasized the importance of working together in promoting the county.
Charlene Boyle, Fáilte Ireland provided an overview of the biggest recruitment research ever conducted involving the industry, workers, recruitment agencies, as well as international benchmarking.
This very insightful study reports on current findings and challenges facing hospitality when it comes to recruitment. It also identifies what changes need to happen to ensure hospitality businesses can successfully continue to deliver their services. Fáilte Ireland is committed to supporting businesses in their recruitment efforts and ultimately help them in their endeavors towards recovery.
Following Charlene’s presentation, two speakers representing local businesses took to the stage and shared their experience on the issue of recruitment. Natasha Gilleece from Harvey’s Point Hotel spoke about the key recruitment challenges, way of adapting and overcoming these challenges, as well as the hotel’s strategy to employee retention.
Siubhán O’Connor, the owner of Corcreggan Mill in Dunfanaghy also addressed the main challenges in her business. She spoke about the approach to staff retention, the importance of creating a happy environment for the staff and reasons why the employees choose to return for the next season. She also demonstrated that guest reviews are reflective of their business ethos.
David Mellet, Regional Co-Ordinator of the Climate Action Regional Office, spoke about Climate Change & Green/Sustainable Business. He provided a lot of insight and advice regarding the mitigation and adaptation in tourism with regards to the climate change and opportunities arising from the climate change. He also addressed the topic of emissions reduction especially in transport and how businesses can support tourists and their needs and attitudes change.
David also encouraged attendees to empower employees to promote sustainability in the workplace and provided useful sources of information attendees could refer to following the seminar.
The award-winning travel writer and expert Pól Ó Conghaile provided attendees with an update on Digitalization & Travel and how Donegal businesses can adapt.
Covid has accelerated tech use for us all and some businesses introduced changes in their offering to keep up with the changing trends, and are paving the way in the digital world of hospitality.
Pól also referred to the change in travel attitudes, visitors looking for slow, meaningful travel, hobby holidays and pet friendly places to stay. He also focused on the importance of direct booking, accessible bedroom booking online and programmes such as ‘Digital that delivers’ by Fáilte Ireland that supports businesses and enables them to improve their online presence and drive operational efficiencies through new technologies.