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Monday, 10 November 2008

The responsible tourism movement in Ireland

For many years Ireland has been associated with the colour ‘Green’, and nature has been a prominent feature of the country due to the ancient Celtic heritage which still lives on today. Recently, this connection with nature has been rekindled due to a rapid increase of responsible tourism ventures that have become visible all over the country.

Local Inhabitants and sustainability enthusiasts alike have sought to create tourist attractions which emphasise the natural, social and cultural heritages of the locality, whilst using sustainable means of generating energy (solar panels, wind power, ancient methods) and providing food (local farms) and other essentials (bio-degradable soap, local ales) to their guests.

Accommodation provisions, ranging from Bed & Breakfast to self catering eco cabins, combined with optional training courses, from “Learning traditional skills” to “Sustainable living”, offer potential tourists plenty of opportunities to practice sustainable tourism on the Emerald Island. What’s more, all these ecologically sound ventures are easily accessible to all ages, offer educational opportunities which can help enhance the awareness towards sustainable living and ultimately may even contribute to changing priorities towards a more environmentally sound approach to living.

The works of organisations such as An Taisce (http://www.blogger.com/www.antaisce.org/) and Greenbox (http://www.greenbox.ie/) have laid great emphasis on the environmental benefits that ST can have for rural Ireland, but their efforts have highlighted the economic benefits of sustainable tourism so that these have increasingly been taken into consideration when planning future projects.

Following the extreme economic development of Ireland in recent years, as a result of European Community investment, it has been suggested it would be possible to move resources to remote areas of Ireland, and, by investment in sustainable tourism, create a sustainable economy in the most impoverished communities (Tomasella, B. 2008).There are many projects which could be branded as Responsible Tourism. Their focus is on empowering communities and bringing economic benefits to local areas, as well as caring for the environment and traditional activities. Many of these projects are only just starting and are struggling to take off because of their remoteness and lack of means for promotion.

THE CELT (http://www.celtnet.org/- Environmental courses and holidays), Gaelic Ways (http://www.gaeltacht.eu/ - Accommodation and showcase of traditional farming ways, for Gaelic speaking tourists) and Kerry Geo-park (http://www.sccird.com/geopark/resources/geopark1.htm - a Geo-park which promotes cultural festivals and local activities for an otherwise very poor area of Ireland) are but a few of these projects. This lack of resources results in problems being experienced by genuine projects focusing on ST and RT, and has brought about the creation of an organisation called Sustainable Tourism Ireland (http://www.blogger.com/www.sustourism.ie). The people involved, members of the Cultivate Centre based in Dublin (http://www.cultivate.ie/), decided to start an affiliate organisation that focuses on Sustainable Tourism. Its aim is to contribute to ST in Ireland, by raising its profile amongst tour operators and tourists.

Barbara Tomasella, project co-ordinator for Sustainable Tourism Ireland has great aspirations for the organisation: “In 5 years we would like to see ourselves as a cultural centre giving courses and talks about Sustainable Tourism, as well as offering consultancy and marketing services to small tour operators, looking to find their place in the Responsible/Sustainable Tourism market.” she said“We believe that Sustainable Tourism can definitely be a way to sustaining Irish heritage in the long term. One might be sceptical about it, saying that it is impossible for ST to take off considering that the Irish government's record on ecotourism and ecology is very minimal. But there are a lot of things changing, see for example the renewed interest from Failte Ireland (http://www.failteireland.ie/ - National Tourism Development Authority) towards Sustainable Tourism”

Please contact Barbara Tomasella (barbara@sustourism.ie) for more information or visit http://www.sustourism.ie/ and http://www.cultivate.ie/.

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