Donegal’s special relationship with the sea provided the centre piece for this week’s Marine Tourism Conference which took place in the Redcastle Oceanfront Hotel.
Almost 100 people attended the two-day conference which was hosted by Donegal County Council and Donegal Tourism CLG and funded under the EU funded CAPITEN project.
The diverse range of speakers included renowned marine biologist and wildlife cameraman Doug Allan.
Doug Allan enthralled the audience with fascinating stories, photography and film clips on tracking polar bears and getting up close and personal with killer whales and leopard seals.
He concluded his presentation with a stark insight to the effects of climate change, particularly at the poles where he has witnessed first hand the effects of the change in sea ice cover on the populations of animals north and south and shared his insight on how best to develop marine tourism in Donegal in a sustainable and responsible way.
In his opening address to the conference, Seamus Neely chief executive in Donegal County Council and chair of Donegal Tourism CLG reflected on the county’s progress over the last 10 years and said that “notwithstanding the uncertainties around Brexit being played out as we speak in Westminster, I believe that today is the right day to be meeting to reflect on the journey we have made in the last number of years and to explore the trajectory that we need to be taking in the next 10.”
“One of our unique advantages in Donegal is our strong culture of collaboration and this has been borne out of a compelling need to work together and to overcome challenges to make sure that we are getting maximum value out of the resources we invest.”
Seamus Neely reflected on the progress made in the tourism product in Donegal and how the Wild Atlantic Way has delivered for Donegal including major investment in key visitor attractions such as Sliabh Liagh, Malin Head and Fanad Lighthouse. He also acknowledged that the Donegal brand is a strong brand and that the focused approach to marketing Donegal has allowed the county to punch above its weight by pooling resources and achieving greater impact in the marketplace.
The availability of the necessary skills to deliver a world class experience for our visitors has and continues to be a key priority in growing the sector in Donegal and Seamus Neely acknowledged the fullest support from various partner organisations including Failte Ireland, LYIT and Donegal ETB.
He added: “Although there is no doubt that we face many challenges, I believe that tourism has reawakened in this part of the world and we are an emerging place that has the potential to grow in a sustainable and progressive way but that this can only be done by continuing to work in a concerted and collaborative way at every level.”
Inishowen native and local entrepreneur William McElhinney from Wild Strands Caife shared his story of setting up his own family business and of his passion for seaweed. He talked about his journey which has seen him open-up an experiential Caife in Malin Head based on seaweed and devised around local organic produce. He also spoke about his passion for preserving and reviving marine built heritage and his role in the building of three traditional Donegal boats.
Other speakers included Joan Crawford and Mark Rowlette from Fáilte Ireland, Dr. Peter Bolan from Ulster University, Dr. Stephen Hynes from NUI Galway, Peter Grogan from Emagine Media and Cormac McDonnell from Sport Ireland. While Trish Hegarty from Inis Communications, Kate Burns, Marine and Rural Resources expert, Dr. Margaret Rae from Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance and Gwénael Le Maguer from Université Bretagne Sud also spoke at the conference.
Leas Chathaoirleach of Donegal County Council Cllr. Niamh Kennedy provided a welcoming address to the conference while Garry Martin, Director of Service with Donegal County Council acted as MC.