Tourism Submission to Westmeath County Council 2021

19th July 2021

Re:          Submission Westmeath Tourism Strategy 2021 – 2027   

                Mullingar Chamber

 

We are making this submission as part of the public consultation of the Westmeath Tourism Strategy 2021-2027 and submitting it by email to tourism@westmeathcoco.ie by the deadline of 4pm on Tuesday 20th July 2021.  Our responses are set out as per the suggested topics set out on the online document located here online.  We have added more information and suggestions at various points throughout aswell. 

Background – Mullingar Chamber

Mullingar Chamber is the largest organised business representative group with over 155 members [individuals and companies] with over 1,500 staff employed in the town and municipal district.  Our mission statement is to promote Mullingar as a place to live and work and to promote inward investment in the town and municipal district as well as the local daytime and night-time economy. 

We deliver these goals through ongoing management of key stakeholder relationships with our members, Westmeath County Council, the IDA, Enterprise Ireland as well as sitting on the Strategic Policy Committees of Westmeath County Council and the Local Community Development Committee.  We also run the largest event in the midlands attracting over 100,000 visitors to Mullingar in the Christmas period to attend the Winterfest Skating on Ice event.

Our response is the result of careful consideration by our 15 person board as well as all our members from various sectors and covers everything from lakeside amenities, strategic reviews of special assets, the longest zipwire in Ireland and a busking and country music festival, we think these suggestions are logical and should play a major part in driving tourism to the area and region.

 

Our Submission – Summary Points

In summary, we see the following opportunities in Mullingar in the coming years that offer an outstanding opportunity to improve tourism to the town and environs:-

Overall Strategy and Economic Output – Mullingar Chamber estimates the delivery of any improvement to tourism in Mullingar and its environs that brings an additional 52,000 visitors to the area who overnight for at least one night to be worth EUR10m to the local economy based on an average all-in spend of EUR200 per person per day.  This EUR10m, in turn could support more than 100 new jobs in tourism in the town and environs in the sector worst hit by Covid-19.  Mullingar Chamber encourages specific targets to be set in this space and to be monitored and evaluated periodically to grow tourism 

Music and Heritage – Mullingar Chamber would welcome the inclusion of a priority in the forthcoming tourism strategy to deliver a logical, sustainable and interactive tourism amenity that may be in the form of a museum or interactive tour of Mullingar and sites of relevance

History, Heritage, Storytelling – Mullingar Chamber would welcome the inclusion of a priority in the forthcoming tourism strategy to deliver a logical, sustainable and interactive history and heritage tourism amenity that may be in the form of a museum or interactive tour of Mullingar and sites of relevance.  This could be based at or in the grounds of Belvedere House and include boat tours to Lilliput [passing Malachy’s Island] and walking tours of relevant sites and amenities

Business & Community Collaboration, Increased Dwell Times of Tourists – Mullingar Chamber would welcome a priority-led approach to this as follows:-

  1. Lakes – [Ennell, Derravaragh, Owel, Lene, Bawn, Iron] – There is currently little amenity at any of our lakes.  We see this as an enormous opportunity to develop lakeside tourism and increase the use of our lakes and the amenities for local residents and tourists alike.  To this end we would encourage the development of one amenity at one lake [Lakehouse Project – Mullingar Chamber Initiative] to examine can access to the lakes be improved and increased.  We also would encourage the development of looped walks at the lakes to provide an excellent outdoor amenity for all to enjoy.  Finally, we would encourage the improvement of lake quality at Lough Ennell in particular
  2. Hotels – Mullingar and Westmeath has an abundance of hotel bedrooms and excellent hotel and guest house accommodation.  We would encourage a joined-up approach led by Westmeath County Council and assisted by Mullingar Chamber to align a tourism strategy around the priorities set out here to maximise the benefits and economic value of these hotels to the industry as a whole
  3. Leisure and Hospitality – Mullingar has an abundance of top-quality bars and restaurants.  We would encourage a joined-up approach led by Westmeath County Council and assisted by Mullingar Chamber to align a tourism strategy around the priorities set out here to maximise the benefits and economic value of these venues.  In particular we would welcome the development of an annual music festival around the history of Mullingar Music [Joe Dolan, Niall Horan, Foster and Allen etc.] and, in a 2021 unlocking and early post-Covid world we aim to host the 2021 Busking Festival in the town ahead of the Fleadh coming here in 2022
  4. Special Venues – We feel Belvedere House and Gardens is a special venue of outstanding beauty and totally untapped potential.  We would welcome a Strategic Review of this asset and how it is run and managed to identify opportunities to grow revenues and tourism at this location and to encourage access to the lake and use of the lake by tourists and local residents alike.  In particular we see an opportunity here for an annual Country Music Festival as well as a substantial improvement in amenities to include lakeside activities, boat hire, and the installation of the longest zip wire in Ireland.  These amenities could increase the visitor numbers to Belvedere by 1x/2x and become a key element of our tourism strategy and its implementation
  5. Events – Mullingar Chamber would encourage stronger Local Authority support for established events [Winterfest / 50,000 visitors / EUR1m to the economy] as well as the establishment of new events [Country Music Festival, Busking Festival, Joe Dolan Festival etc.]
  6. Belvedere – As set out we see this as an outstanding opportunity to review this asset and consider a very ambitious plan to reposition it going forward [country music festival, lakeside amenities, longest zipwire in Ireland] broadening the appeal to families to visit the area and increasing dwell time to the area
  7. Columb Barracks Museum – We feel this is a venue of enormous historical importance and are supportive of a plan to deliver a museum at this location to protect this heritage and showcase it to generations to come in a logical and sensible manner
  8. New Amenities – A s set out the Lake House, the longest zip wire in Ireland and many more initiatives will increase the time a tourist would stay in the area
  9. Live Music – We feel this would be an asset in the town and should be encouraged indoors and outdoors.  There are two Market Squares and an abundance of venues indoor and outdoor where this could become a key feature of the town
  10. Clubs and Societies – Mullingar has one of the leading gold clubs in Ireland as well as an abundance of other clubs [sailing, fishing, tennis, cricket, football, hurling etc.].  We would encourage a joined up approach led by Westmeath County Council and assisted by Mullingar Chamber to align a tourism strategy around the priorities set out here to maximise the benefits and economic value of these clubs to this strategy
  11. Greenway & Old Rail Trail, and other tracks and trails from Coillte Ireland – We feel facilities such as toilets & bins need to be provided along these routes and this could be done where licences could be issued to food and beverage operators once they provided these facilities
  12. Unique Shops & Facilities – The aesthetic of Mullingar has improved over the last number of years however we would encourage a widening of the shopfront grant scheme and a logical loosening of the requirements for drawdown of it to encourage more uptake.  Mullingar Chamber will be engaging with all vacant shopfront owners as part of the #WeAreMullingar initiative in Q3 2021 
  13. Farmers Markets – Farmers’ markets afford local producers the unique opportunity of selling directly to the consumer.  In return, consumers are looking for direct access to farmers and producers.  We would encourage the establishment of a Farmers Market in the town as we feel this is substantial weekend amenity
  14. Greyhound Track – Mullingar has one of 16 Greyhound tracks in the country that could form part of this value proposition
  15. The Hill of Uisneach – There has been huge improvements to the story and the information available about the Hill of Uisneach in the past 10 years.   We feel this is an outstanding amenity with immense potential that can form part of this strategy
  16. Mullaghmeen Forest – We feel this is one of the best amenities in Ireland however it needs a substantial improvement with signage and amenities to maximise its potential National Transportation Museum – Mullingar Chamber is currently completing the feasibility study for a National Transportation Museum in the town and aim to have this completed for Q4 2021 to discuss with Westmeath County Council.  This is a EUR40m scheme that will require c.EUR1mpa to run and is substantially not viable at present however we are examining opportunities to increase the amenity and footfall and decrease the cost of delivery before presenting it to Westmeath County Council
  17. Purple Flag – Mullingar should capitalise on being one of only 14 towns who have previously received the Purple Flag accreditation.  Mullingar Chamber will continue to promote this going forward as part of our strategy
  18. Bins – Mullingar Chamber encourage the emptying of all public bins at close of business each day [as opposed to the following morning] to alleviate litter issues in the town centre and town park.  Mullingar Chamber would enquire the cleaning of the current bins as they can present as dirty and unsightly as well as the evaluation of better bins that are easier to use as an alternative in the future
  19. Update of Tourism Information Signage / Maps – The main signage as you enter and leave the town on all routes needs attention in many cases.  Mullingar Chamber would encourage a strategic review of signage on the following basis:-
  1. N52 / N4 – To install a “Welcome to Mullingar” on both routes
  2. M4 – To get Mullingar mentioned on the national route signage on the M4/N4 where it is currently almost totally absent
  3. Local Signage – To examine removal of signage that is out of date [Fourth Field Artillery Regiment etc., old tourist office signage etc.]
  4. Local Signage – To repair and upgrade all signage as needed and, in particular, to install street signage on all street corners in the town centre
  5. New Signage – To install new signage showing routes around the town and to the hospital where they are missing

Mullingar Chamber has already done some work on this and aims to make a submission to WCC in the coming weeks with suggestions and observations on it but we need the support of WCC to implement it

  1. Public art installations/sculptures to enhance the public realm and create ‘points of interest’ – With the exception of the Joe Dolan statue there is little to no “instagramable” features in Mullingar town centre.  We would encourage Westmeath County Council to consider this and come up with some suggestions
  2. Promote and support activity-based attractions/holidays – Mullingar has many different activity-based holiday ideas that could be widely promoted to create a niche such as Cycling, Mountain Biking, Hiking, Kayaking, Lilliput Adventure Centre, Derrymore Springs while expanding from Centre Parcs in Ballymahon.  We would encourage Westmeath County Council to consider this and Mullingar Chamber would be highly supportive of it
  3. Expos – Mullingar Chamber currently hosts the annual Careers Expo as a 1 day event with 1,000 visitors.  If we moved to a 2 day model and did a Ted Talk session we feel we could double the size of this and encourage business tourism with the overnight element
  4. Rail Links to Dublin-Sligo – The train to Dublin is the same speed in 2021 as it was in 1921.  We would encourage a substantial improvement in the speed and quantity of direct services to Dublin and Sligo and the number of carriages on each service to meet demand to eliminate the need for large numbers of patrons to stand more than 15 minutes every way every day

We hope this submission is received in the constructive fashion with which it is sent and look forward to seeing what the final tourism strategy looks like once completed.

 

Yours sincerely,

John Geoghegan

President – Mullingar Chamber

cc: All members MCC

cc: All Elected Members WCC

cc: 4 No. Local TDs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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