Home News The Burren tourism group wins Lonely Planet award

The Burren tourism group wins Lonely Planet award

By David Hennessy

The Burren Eco Tourism Network has won a Lonely Planet award in its ‘Best in Travel’ picks for 2021, being named Best Community Tourism Project.

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2021 list had to take a different approach this year. Rather than the usual places or attractions, it has picked 30 inspirational people, destinations and tourism projects that use pioneering sustainable practices, regenerate local communities and promote representation in all aspects of travel.

The Burren EcoTourism Network is described as “an impressive community collaboration of over 60 local enterprises which has transformed Ireland’s Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark into a global leader for sustainable tourism”.

The network is celebrated for coming together “to promote slow tourism, local engagement and a greater responsibility for a more sustainable future for all in the area.”

All the enterprises in the network subscribe to the unique Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark ‘Code of Sustainable Practice’, an online platform that measures waste output, water consumption and energy usage and encourages each business to make reductions in these areas.

Lonely Planet spokesperson Noirin Hegarty told The Irish World: “The Burren Eco Tourism Network are at the forefront of sustainable practices. It is the local community protecting their environment and remarkable landscape for now and for the future. They’re leading the way for other places and other community projects in other parts of the world by adopting this best practice.

“To us, it seemed to stand out significantly and we thought it was worthy of an award.

“I think it’s also the fact that it is 60+ businesses and they didn’t have that many closures during the pandemic when, of course, a lot of tourism businesses have closed.”

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An award from the travel authority will surely translate to more visitors to the famous site even if they can’t go there immediately.

“Of course, there are no international tours coming to Ireland at the moment but keeping Ireland front of mind from their point of view is an important thing.

“As a company, Lonely Planet doesn’t say, ‘We’re going to give you loads of business by giving you this award’.

“We give people information about travel and we try to be fair and we try to tell it as it is but I think just because we’ve been in the business a long time, 47 years, there is an authority associated with a Lonely Planet award. It is the company and all the expertise in travel that is in the business saying, ‘We think you guys are doing an amazing job’.

“It’s fantastic to see how much it does mean and how important it is to people and I think particularly this year when they have had a very difficult time. It’s nice to have a bit of good news for a change. It’s nice to be looking towards the future with a bit of positivity and also just recognising that the Burren Eco Tourism network is a shining beacon to how everybody should be approaching travel and working together.

“Coincidentally, we were looking at it from the community perspective but it ties in quite well with the fact you can be remote there, you’re not in a crowded place, you don’t necessarily have to interact with other people as you would in a city location.

“From that point of view, it probably is attractive in a post-Covid world as well because safety being the number one priority, none of us are travelling until it’s safe to travel and even then there’s a sense in all the data and the surveys are telling us people want to go remote, they want to go off the beaten track, they don’t want to go to crowded places.”

The limestone Burren region, County Clare

With the global pandemic bringing leisure travel very much to a halt since March, Lonely Planet were forced into a “reimagining” of its best in travel picks for 2021.

“Of course everything changed in March. In March there was a naivety of thinking, ‘This will be be over in a month or two and we will be able to do things in the autumn’. But we realised pretty quickly that wouldn’t happen.
“That was when we went back to the drawing board completely and said, ‘What can we do that is relevant this year? We obviously can’t identify places we think people should go to now because we don’t know what the lockdown situation will be and we don’t know if they will be able to travel but how do we reflect on the industry in a year that is really tough for people?’

“That was when we came up with the notion of focusing on what we think are very key themes globally: Sustainability, community and diversity.”

The network is the only Irish tourist project included in the list. The network was listed in the ‘Best in Community’ category, which also included an Australian group for their restoration work after the horrific bush fires, as well as a community in Medellin, Colombia, trying to revitalise a city devastated by drugs and gang wars.

However, Noirin says they could easily have been recognised in the area of sustainability.

“Sustainability and community are very intertwined. The Burren won the award under the community category but it also could just as easily have won under sustainability. We just felt it was suitable for community because it is local people who are driving this initiative.

“Sustainability was a hot topic pre-Covid. It is continuing to be. If you think back to the issues we had a very short time ago like overtourism in various European resorts and even in Ireland. There were accusations that the Cliffs of Moher was overtouristed and there was an attempt to get people to visit in the evenings or to give people a sense of the best time to come.

“Now that’s not an issue at all. The cities in Europe- Barcelona, Venice, places like that that really were suffering from overtourism are now deserted.

“Sustainability is continuing to be a big issue. I think people want to make sure that they’re not doing damage when they travel, that they are giving back, that the environmental impacts that they’re making are not going to be detrimental to the place they’re going.

“Sometimes I think a lot of lip service is paid to sustainability but then when people have to pay extra to be sustainable it’s not such a priority anymore. The intentions are good but the reality can be a little different.

“In this era, wellness, health, taking time out, all of those things are very much at the forefront during Covid, going hand-in-hand with safety.

“With Black Lives Matter being such a huge concern in 2020, we feel very strongly that travel is a force for good. It opens up people’s minds, it breaks down barriers. We thought that focusing on that would be a significant thing in the current climate.”

The guide reflects on how attitudes to travel has changed and looks to the future of travel in a post-pandemic world.
Asked when international travel will return to what it was, Noirin says: “It’s very hard to see at this point when that’s going to happen. We get a sense that there is a very strong pent-up consumer demand for travel. People still have an appetite for travel but safety is everything.

“It’s looking more positive with the vaccines coming out now that seem to have really good success rates. That makes it more optimistic but Australia and New Zealand are not anticipating that international travel will come back before 2022. I think that would be the general feeling. That if we were to get back to 2019 levels, it’s going to take some time but of course the big unknowns there are: How many airlines will still be flying? What will the connectivity be like? Will it be more expensive to travel internationally? And they’re all open questions at the moment because so many people are still struggling in the tourism space.”

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