Introduction – a new visitor experience
Suir Blueway Tipperary is Tipperary’s newest recreational visitor experience developed by Tipperary County Council in collaboration with multiple stakeholders, local communities and businesses. Refurbished pathways and multiple new access points reconnect visitors and communities to the river. Visitors can experience engaging tours of the world-renowned Cahir Castle before strolling down to the Swiss Cottage as paddle boarders and canoeists pass by on their way along 53km of river trails, passing through picturesque villages and towns as they follow the meandering river to the historic town of Clonmel and onwards to Carrick-on-Suir. Walkers and cyclists can enjoy beautiful scenery as they follow the river for 21km along the refurbished historic towpath from Clonmel to Carrick-on-Suir. Accomplished paddlers can take on the challenge of the 300-metre whitewater Canoe Slalom Course in Clonmel while the culturally curious can enjoy The Butler Trail, the Main Guard in Clonmel and Ormond Castle in Carrick on Suir.
Suir Blueway Tipperary was carefully developed over seven years launching in May 2019. It is one of the country’s first blueways developed solely by a local authority working closely with Sport Ireland to ensure it met the requirements of the emerging blueway accreditation scheme throughout. The fact that the 21 km towpath connecting Clonmel to Kilsheelan and Carrick on Suir is of huge historical significance meant that careful planning and development was required. Community collaboration has been central to the development of this tourism and community product. Innovative marketing techniques have also been beneficial including the development of an interactive map to enhance visitor planning and visitor experiences. The canoe slalom course and community sports hub are unique in the country. The slalom course is used for training by the Irish team and is an innovative and unique offering within the overall product.
Suir Blueway Tipperary is a tourism experience and community resource boasting a 53km kayaking and canoe trail and a 21km walking and cycling trail. The aims and objectives achieved include:
- development of a new tourism product that leverages the natural heritage of the Suir Valley connecting and cross-selling the towns, villages, communities, activities and attractions that lie along it.
- boosting the local tourism economy through an increase in the hospitality and activity businesses and job creation.
- boosting visitor numbers for day trips and overnights in the greater area.
- reconnecting communities with the river through the development of a community sports hub that has to date seen the development of two new canoe clubs and a state of the art canoe slalom course, the only course in the country outside of Dublin.
- Cross-selling tourism experiences along the blueway including Ormond Castle, Carrick on Suir, Cahir Castle, Swiss Cottage, The Butler Trail, The Main Guard etc.
Communication was centrally important throughout the project. This project was delivered in phases over 7 years as funding was secured. From the very beginning there was a strong focus on stakeholder engagement. Interreg funding was secured to deliver community engagement workshops and projects that encouraged communities and businesses to think about the river and to take ownership of it as a resource available to the people and enterprises located along it. The regeneration of the towpath which is now the 21km Suir Blueway Tipperary walking and cycling trail came from dialogue with the communities in Carrick on Suir, Kilsheelan and Clonmel. As the project progressed more villages and towns came on board including Cahir, Ardfinnan and Newcastle. Businesses along the trail and landowners were engaged in a supportive proactive manner. This included multinational corporations such as Merke Sharpe and Dohme and Bulmers. The support of state agencies was centrally important including Sport Ireland, Waterways Ireland, Inland Fisheries, Fáilte Ireland and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. Collaboration with tidy towns, festivals, arts and heritage groups was also vitally important.
The communities along the river initially became involved as part of a Green and Blue Futures Interreg Programme where community cafes were established to encourage conversations about the river and how this resource could be developed. This developed into further projects in the areas of arts, heritage and tourism. In relation to the launch of Suir Blueway Tipperary the communities in Clonmel, Kilsheelan and Carrick on Suir came together to host an amazing community day where events were hosted by the communities all along the Blueway, this culminated in a huge community celebration in the village of Kilsheelan where Today FM hosted a live broadcast to promote the blueway and recognize the communities and stakeholders who supported its development.
From a tourism perspective, the target sector was the tourism providers in county Tipperary and the greater Irelands Ancient East region. This new tourism product provides another reason for visitors to choose Tipperary and Irelands Ancient East and increases dwell time in the geography. The tourism providers located along and near Suir Blueway Tipperary strongly supported the development of the product and continue to use it as part of their own promotions through packages, bundles and digital marketing. Before Suir Blueway Tipperary was launched all the tourism providers (accommodation, attraction and tourist information offices) were briefed about the experiences available along it and were provided with content in terms of high quality photography, copywriting, brochure, video and interactive map that they could use on their online platforms to promote the experience. This was also made available on https://tipperary.com/suir-blueway-tipperary/ This meant that customer service was very well managed. In terms of the experience itself a signage strategy was researched, developed and delivered significantly enhancing the visitor experience, signage types range from directional to interpretive, telling stories of the rich built and natural heritage to be discovered along the Blueway.
This initiate was funded by Tipperary County Council, Sport Ireland and the Department of Transport Tourism and Sport and the Department of Rural and Community Development. Other supporting funding was provided by EU Interreg funds, LEADER and the local enterprise office.
Overall Suir Blueway Tipperary has brought the tourism economy along the Suir Valley together in a proactive and collaborative way. In the 12 months since the launch usage numbers increased six-fold. Throughout 2020 counter data suggests there were approximately 250,000 unique users of the Blueway.
Tourism providers, businesses and communities are working together to cross-promote the blueway and the towns and villages along it. The large businesses located along it are working with the Council to improve the stretch they are located on to tell the story of what they do and to build relationships with the local communities. New bike hire and hospitality businesses have opened as a direct result of this project. The new Slalom course attracts a very specific target market and the events on the slalom have attracted a new target market to Clonmel. Community benefit and enhanced well being is also very significant. Festivals and annual events are now incorporating events on the blueway into their programmes – eg. recent Clonmel Junction Festival – although it was an online event it still featured an event on the Blueway.
This project is very sustainable; Tipperary County Council ensures that all tourism development projects in this county have regard to a responsible tourism approach. The project was developed over a long period of time and had regard to all legal and environmental requirements in doing so. From a social and economic perspective the blueway has been developed in partnership with community, business, tourism, and agency stakeholders. The long term impact will be one of rural regeneration and economic sustainability for the towns and villages located along the route, many of which are not traditional tourism destinations.
This part of the country can now boast a state of the art visitor experience that leverages off the history and heritage of the geography and is authentic to the locality. There is huge potential for these communities to build on this and there is already evidence of the same. Work is progressing to link Suir Blueway Tipperary to Waterford Greenway, linking the trail into a network of greenways planned and in development for the south east region. The potential for further experience development in these towns and villages is already being exploited in Newcastle, Cahir, Carrick on Suir and Clonmel.