The worldwide telecom industry generates over $2 trillion in annual revenue, about the same as the GDP of Russia, India or Italy and about 10 times Ireland’s annual output of $210 billion. What does Ireland have to do with global telecom?
Valentia Island, in Southwest County Kerry, on The Emerald Isle’s western shore, was the terminus of the first commercially viable transatlantic telegraphy cable. Ireland tourism officials were recently in the United States to lobby for the original cable station, which at its peak housed some 200 employees, to be named a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The impact of what happened on the Kerry coast is significant. The time it took to get a message from Europe to the North America was reduced from weeks to minutes. And in an era when today’s high tech devices are outdated before you get it out of its plastic packaging, Valentia was in service for 100 years until Western Union ended its operations there in 1966.
Tourism Ireland’s Chief Executive Niall Gibbons (above), speaking at a luncheon at The New York Athletic Club to promote tourism to County Kerry pointed to Valentia’s place in history (and its museum detailing it) as part of a lesser know Ireland he thinks will appeal to elite travelers. The tourism board has developed a route it calls “The Wild Atlantic Way” of which over 350 miles runs through County Kerry.
Rightfully, many golfers know the area for its world-class courses. Ten are featured in the most recent Top Golf list of 100 best courses in the U.K. and Ireland. The Old Course at Ballybunion, Waterville and Tralee may be the most famous, but the Killeen Course at The Killarney Golf and Fishing Club, Dooks Golf Club and the Cashen Course at Ballybunion are all top rated. Dingle Golf Club and Skelling Golf Club provide panoramic Atlantic views to go with challenging layouts.
That said, Ireland and Kerry are attracting a wider audience that has reached beyond golfers and stereotype motor coach vacations. The Adventure Travel Trade Association has selected Ireland for its annual conference this October, and it’s worth noting Ultra High Net Worth families are estimated to have spent over $5 billion last year on adventure travel. Explaining the boom in super rich travelers expanding their horizon beyond chandeliers and crystal, ATTA Vice President Chris Chesak says, “Adventure travel is becoming more luxurious, and luxury travelers are becoming more adventurous.” Walking, biking, horseback riding and hiking tours are popular, as is fishing and falconry. Of course for those who want truly challenging experiences, the 112-mile Ring of Kerry bike race is July 5 and the Irish Kerryhead triathlon will take place September 1, 2014.
Seamus Fitzgerald, the Mayor of Kerry, who was also led the press conference, calls his home “Ireland’s spectacular Kingdom.” Fitzgerald describes the diverse scenery as lake lands, mountains, lowlands and coastal areas. The medieval town of Listowel on the River Feale has been called “The literary capital of Ireland,” and there are a number of annual festivals, and several of the local pubs host weekly literary evenings. On a more general note, the annual Puck Fair, 400 years running, is one of Europe’s oldest, and this year is August 10 to 12.
Castles and manor houses abound in Kerry, and Sean O’Driscoll, General Manager of the five-star Muckross Park Hotel & Cloisters Spa, says Ireland’s strong post recession tourism surge has had several implications. First, banks that foreclosed on a number of hotels due to the financial situation of their owners have been able to invest money into the properties to prepare for sale. Now, he says, he expects strong interest from buyers as values are still more than 50 percent below the peak. Donald Trump’s purchase of Doonbeg in County Clare and Red Carnation’s buy of Ashford Castle in County Mayo are two high profile examples. Josephine Quinlan of Celtic Golf, who specializes in custom golf tours of Ireland that cater to the private jet set, noted that having the influx of new owners with marketing power and capital will help power the already strong upward curve of Ireland tourism which has created some 20,000 new jobs, according to Gibbons.
O’Driscoll told the New York gathering that while Kerry may not have a plethora of highly known accommodations, its 80 hotels and guest houses have garnered some 47 awards and account for 10 of Ireland’s top 25 for service, based on Trip Advisor. Further, he says, the county includes nine of the top 25 ranked small hotels. His own property recently won the Spa Award at the World Luxury Awards.
Access for elite travelers is easy. Kerry Airport located near Farranfore has full business aviation services, including customs and immigrations, meaning it is easy to include a stop in Kerry on the way to or from Europe to North America.