EVERY single person in Cork has a role to play in boosting visitor numbers and spreading the word on what the city and county can offer as an international tourism hot-spot.
That’s the message that Ursula Moorish and Evelyn O’Sullivan of new tourism initiative Visit Cork want to spread as they launch their social media strategy to put Cork on the global map as a destination, both for leisure and business travel.
An ambitious five-year plan called ‘Growing Tourism in Cork — A Collective Strategy’ aims to generate a projected €86 million in revenue for the county by increasing international visitor numbers to Cork by 500,000 each year. Visit Cork’s Destination Manager, Ursula Moorish, and Business Development Manager, Evelyn O’Sullivan, are heading up the team behind the plan’s implementation.
Both Ursula and Evelyn were raised in Cork, worked elsewhere in the tourism and marketing sectors, and returned to Cork. Ursula believes that this ‘outsider’s’ perspective is very valuable in seeing what Cork has to offer, and what challenges it faces.
“Having an international ambition is key to getting overseas visitors in and understanding what they’re looking for,” she says.
“When Cork people come back, we bring a different perspective; an ambition and a confidence that we’ve got good stuff here. We should be more confident and proud of what we’ve got to offer.”
Ursula was born in Blackrock and left Ireland in 1989 after graduating from UCC, and has worked in London, Japan, Edinburgh and Bangkok amongst other places; she returned to take up a position with Visit Cork last September.
“I came back because I heard that there were loads of fantastic things happening in Cork,” she says. “I have a young family, a 4-year-old and a 6-year- old, and I felt it was the right time to come home.”
Ursula’s work in London was on developing initiatives to market the City of London. She says that Cork’s biggest challenge now is to present a unified front to get the word out about what a fantastic destination it can be.
“One thing I love about Cork is all this stuff that’s happening under the radar,” she says. “What I would love is if we could make all this activity more accessible, so that visitors can plan ahead and see what is available.”
Working with Fáilte Ireland’s pre-existing “Wild Atlantic Way” and “Ancient East” brands is important, Ursula says.
“We don’t have the money or the clout to market internationally just as Cork, so we’ve got to work with the existing brands. Also with Cork Airport, who are amazing; I’m working closely with them to leverage the message for Cork.
“Cork is the gateway to Ireland’s Ancient East and the Wild Atlantic Way. If a visitor was pressed for time, what I would like would be for a visitor to feel that they’d satisfied that need to experience those brands in Cork, by using Cork city as a starting point.”
In recent years, Fáilte Ireland has worked on profiling visitors to Ireland and has discovered that it’s experiences, not products, that overseas visitors are seeking in Ireland. Amongst surveyed visitors, it’s the people of Ireland that feature again and again as our best resource. Ursula has ambitious plans to collaborate on a series of packaged experiences tailored to visitors with different interests.
“Mary Kelly of Mallow Racecourse is working with us on linking in to Ireland’s Ancient East,” she says. “One theme is ‘The Sport of Kings’ – horseracing. A visitor could come to have a day at the races, stay in a beautiful hotel and then go to Buttevant, the birthplace of the steeplechase, and then travel to Doneraile to meet someone who could talk to you about the history of the steeplechase. They could also visit a local stud farm, and top it off with a horse-trail on the Beara peninsula for some horse riding.”
But if it’s the stumble-upon factor, the spontaneity and friendliness of locals that charms the tourists, aren’t we at risk of losing the very thing Cork is trying to promote if we present too glossy a package to visitors? Ursula believes the key is in driving towards sustainable development for the region.
“We are cognisant that we have all these visitors coming in because of the preciousness of what we have to offer. They come for the deserted beaches, and the friendliness of folk and the engagement with local people. We have to ensure that we have growth, but also that the tourism we promote is sustainable and that it doesn’t impact on our livelihood or the quality of our life here in Cork, and that it doesn’t impact on our environment.”
Leisure tourism is of obvious importance to Cork’s economy, but the business sector can’t be overlooked either; last year, 14,000 delegates came to conferences in Cork, generating more than €11 million for the economy. 8,000 of those business visitors came from overseas.
Evelyn O’Sullivan heads up the business side of Visit Cork in her role as director of Cork Convention Bureau.
A native of Mallow, like Ursula she moved abroad following her studies and has worked in London, Dublin and Capetown.
Also like Ursula, she’d like to see Cork become more confident that it has plenty to offer the international visitor. The city’s small size is just part of the appeal for delegates attending conferences, expositions, training events and industry exhibitions in the area.
“It’s a compact city, but at the same time it has its own airport,” Evelyn says. “Cork has 24 four-star hotels and 3 five-stars, so you’ve got over 10,000 bed-nights in the extended city area. A conference of 500 people might have to stay in four or five hotels, but they can all be within walking distance of where they need to be.”
Evelyn says that over 80% of the business attracts is generated by local “convention ambassadors.”
“We identify local people who are members of institutions and organisations with an international presence, and we encourage them to bid for their international conferences to come to Cork,” she says.
“UCC has lots of members of scientific organisations, for example, but we also liaise with business associations. We put supports in place to help them to win their conference for Cork; we help them put a bid document together and there’s some funding for them through Fáilte Ireland. We also give practical supports like helping find accommodation in our member hotels.”
Even business visitors want to let their hair down, and Evelyn says that Cork’s reputation for excellent food, as well as maritime activities, are a big draw for corporate clients looking for a memorable experience.
She’s been working on an itinerary for a large, Munich-based insurance company that rewards their staff with a corporate getaway: “They’re looking for high-end experiences. 130 visitors are going to come up the river to Cork on different boats.
“Then, when they’re in town, half are going to be collected in Model T Ford cars to go kayaking and half are going to Ballyhoura to go mountain biking. At a low level, you might think Cork can’t deliver against somewhere like Nice…but it can.
“When you come back to Cork, you see it in a new light and suddenly you realise that has plenty to offer,” Evelyn says.
“You don’t have to be from Cork to sell Cork, but it helps. When you’re out internationally, people will pick up on the unusual accent, and ask where you’re from.”
You can help play your part in promoting Cork as a destination: check out Visit Cork on Facebook @visitcork
You can also find them on Twitter @visitcork_ie and on Instagram @visitcork_ie.
Post your favourite pictures of Cork on social media with the hashtag #visitcork and help to promote everything that is great about Cork city and county.