THE Wild Atlantic Way has proven so successful that major “bottlenecks” are starting to develop on the route in peak season.
Fáilte Ireland has said long delays and capacity issues are starting to “negatively affect the visitor experience” for tourists coming to Ireland, according to an internal brief.
The documents, prepared for senior management, explain how the tourism agency hopes instead to send visitors further inland to take pressure off the busiest routes.
Described as a major challenge in the brief for management, Fáilte Ireland said they needed to make sure they could “future proof [their] hero asset”.
The “bottlenecks” are on the most popular part of the route from the Cliffs of Moher in Clare down towards Dingle as well as the Ring of Kerry.
The briefing said: “This presents an opportunity to take advantage of existing geographies with a strong tourist offering that are adjacent to the Wild Atlantic Way.”
They said in Clare, visitors should be coaxed into exploring the Burren landscape to take the pressure off Doolin and other towns.
In Kerry, they discussed creating a feature called ‘The Landscapes that inspired Star Wars’ to try and “spread visitors wider” along the route and to take advantage of the cameo of Skellig Michael in the latest instalment of the movie saga.
“These ‘drives’ will not be branded Wild Atlantic Way,” the brief said. “However, they will be presented based on their own story or attraction to potential visitors as a visitor experience in proximity to the [route].”
They said they hoped to have four new drives and two themed itineraries and trails in place by the end of this year to ease the pressures on Counties Clare and Kerry.
Fáilte Ireland said they wanted to encourage tourism with a better regional spread and that would be less seasonal.
A spokesman said: “Otherwise, if numbers simply continue to grow into the usual hotspots during high season, we will have greater congestion, less value for money and a diminished visitor experience.
“In terms of the Wild Atlantic Way, our domestic marketing over the last year has created greater emphasis on the northern stretch of the route.”
The spokesman said for instance that Slieve League in Donegal, with its 600-metre tall cliffs, was as spectacular as the Cliffs of Moher but far less visited.
He also said that the Ireland’s Ancient East campaign was in part inspired by spreading growth around the country and “avoiding bottlenecks”.
Separately, internal records also reveal how Fáilte Ireland came under intense pressure to extend the Wild Atlantic Way project but were wary any such decision could “open the floodgates” for other areas looking to get included.
Campaigners had been lobbying to have the route signage brought to Courtmacsherry in Cork and the Seven Heads Peninsula.
Internal documents explain that including the area around the peninsula had originally been considered problematic because the roads were too narrow for two-way traffic in places.
Local businesses complained that they had been particularly badly hit as tourists would rigidly follow the Wild Atlantic Way signposts and ignore the town.
Among those supporting their cause were Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin who described the area as “extremely picturesque and enchanting” in a letter to Fáilte Ireland.
An internal email also explained how the issue had become divisive in the area between those “on the physical route … and those who perceive they are being disadvantaged”.
Fáilte Ireland said: “[We have] agreed to extend the current route of the Wild Atlantic Way to Courtmacsherry and the addition of a discovery point in [the village].
“We have also agreed to investigate the appropriate mechanism to include the Seven Heads Coastal Route as a component of the Wild Atlantic Way.”