You could say times weren’t good.
The Great European recession made first landfall in Ireland with the post-2008 Irish economic downturn. Hardship stormed the country for six years in the way of bank scandals, spiraling debt, protests, bank bail outs, a 2011 Government collapse, and the liquidation of the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation. Tourism suffered. Emigration and unemployment hit 10 and 15 percent, respectively, highs not seen since the 1980s. Families not only lost homes and jobs, but battled the resulting fallouts of depression, substance abuse, and suicide.
Ireland was worn out.
The country laid battered for six years, only coming up for air in 2014. Not coincidentally, at the same time Ireland’s tourism board Fáilte Ireland launched the new Wild Atlantic Way brand and delivered the app. But could this flag bearer for the new and much-needed tourism initiative spotlighting the west of Ireland resuscitate the country?
“This was not just going to be a one-off campaign, but an initiative of scale and singularity for the west coast,” says Kathrin Chambers, Marketing Manager at Fáilte Ireland. One focused particularly on aiding the industry by jumpstarting international visitors and revenue.
Tourist conversations tend to center around the obvious, arguably played-out, regulars: Dublin, Kilkenny, the Ring of Kerry, and the Cliffs of Moher. While these locations stand up to their reputations, the wealth and scope of Ireland can’t be summed up in just four or five locations. Savage terrains like those of Counties Sligo and Donegal boast epic vistas and some of the island’s oldest and formative features.
The world’s longest defined coastal touring route, the Wild Atlantic Way extends from Malin Head, the northern most point, all the way to the Old Head of Kinsale in south central Ireland. Within the drive include headliners like Connemara’s Killary Harbour and Mullaghmore, which draws big-wave surfers every year.
Pursuing A Mission
But inspiring visitors to head west wasn’t enough. Fáilte Ireland wanted to create a way to give the experiences clarity and meaning. Working inside an aggressive six-month schedule, the tourism board partnered with one of their technology agencies to develop an app that acts somewhat as a personal tour guide. Kathrin says, “As we launched the app, there still weren’t signs along the Wild Atlantic Way that say you’re on the route. It was really a tool to help people understand where they were and what’s so special about the area.”
Another key requirement—usability that avoided roaming charges and circumvented the landscape’s inconsistent or nonexistent coverage in remote areas. This is the reason the group opted to develop the app first and the website second.
Team members focused all their energy on creating an offline app that provides location-independent access to the content. What makes it work? All of the information is stored on the app and is accessible without service. “Then when you to update or go into a WIFI area that app will update and it will pull from the content system,” she says.
Upon first glance, it’s hard to miss the app’s elegance. Consider it a study of on-point stylization. An accomplishment that feels fresh and laidback, despite stunning photographs of cliffs that, in size and presence, are anything but low key. It’s simply beautiful and built on how the group wanted the Wild Atlantic Way to be perceived.
“The Wild Atlantic Way, it talks for itself. It’s that ruggedness, wildness…the freeness of the whole thing.”
That’s what they aimed to capture. Each of the five natural colors chosen claim direct origin from the headers and cliffs that stretch beyond the pavement. Kathrin says, “We brought in the ruggedness of the brand and the location by showing the shapes and colors of the rocks and terrain in different areas of the app so you can imagine yourself there. And even when you look at the Wild Atlantic Way logo, again it has a rugged-wave style to it.”
Fáilte Ireland identified 188 key locations along the full 2,500 kilometers based on striking beauty, dramatic scenery, or must-see characteristics. “Discovery Points are places where you have potential to get people to slow down and stop and take in the views. Or if there is a really good story that stands up with what the Wild Atlantic Way stands for,” she says.
Of the Discovery Points, only 15 are designated Signature Points, those boasting unparalleled landscapes or possessing significant history with global appeal. Consider the Derrigimlagh Bog, where Marconi built a trans-Atlantic station, and Alcock and Brown crash-landed after the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic. “So there’s lots of different stories and experiences around these Signature Points and that’s really how they were chosen,” she says.
The group also started rolling out information panels at most Signature and Discovery Points for individuals without the app. Kathrin clarifies. “Now, what we’re looking at is giving you more information again on those points when you’re there to give you a little bit more background to the stories of the area. And that’s going to be included in our next release of the app.”
For travelers seeking more, there’s also a list of Hidden Gems. The seasonal mix ranges from falconeering to goat farmers making scones and ice cream. Consider these the easy-to-miss, less-common sites and activities that layer in unique elements of authenticity and culture. The trade on the ground believes them to be “something people really must experience.”
Making It Work
Developed over an 11-year period, the main database populating the content comprises all the tours, vendors, and products in Ireland that wish to be on the list.
The total equates to 5,000 individual pieces of datum.
While this offers comprehensive coverage, its sheer size created a serious hurdle for developers. Think of it like trying to shove an elephant into a half bath, while still being able to wash your hands. “It was challenging to ensure that the app delivered the experience we wanted, while still ensuring that the weight of the app from a content perspective was at an optimal level for users.”
On the whole, the current version is more or less what the team members initially presented, though they’re constantly looking to make improvements and incorporate current technology. For example, 360-degree imagery didn’t exist in 2014. “We’re looking now at how do we incorporate the 360-degree imagery that we have on the website into the app,” she says. “2017 will see the next big release with notable changes.”
They’ve also been busy creating additional efforts to drive traffic to western part of the country. This summer they introduced the Passport, a physical souvenir that you can collect at the Post and get then stamped at all of the locations you visit.
In March 2015, the tourism board launched the website, replete with motivational content, travel practicals and planning-centric articles. A multiawarding winning site (e.g., ‘Best in Travel, Sport, Leisure and Tourism’ and ‘Best Travel/Events site’ in 2015), it’s attracted over over 1.3 million visits to date, with over 3.7 million page views. “The website is more your planning tool to get information before you travel; the app is very much your in-holiday tool.”
“It was an exciting time,” Kathrin says. “It’s a whole concept, a whole new way of marketing and packaging the west coast of Ireland…The project was there. You know, the project’s not new. We knew what canvas we were working with. It was changing how we used that canvas more.”
And it’s working. The Wild Atlantic Way app, downloaded nearly 70K times, ranks 4 out of 5 on IOS and garners much positive feedback. One user commented, “Essential. This app is essential, especially if you only have a few days to spend in the region. This will show you the main attractions and plenty more from the area.”
The whole Wild Atlantic Way initiative has breathed life back into the wounded country. While the app may not be completely responsible for the revival, the efforts of Fáilte Ireland have changed the course dramatically. Unemployment sits at 8 percent. For 2016, to this point, businesses saw a 79 percent spike, because of the Wild Atlantic Way initiative. “We’ve increased visitor numbers to the west of Ireland since it launched in 2014 up 48 percent,” she adds.
And it is an initiative, one that’s multitiered and only just getting started. “It’s not a one-year or two-year campaign,” Kathrin tells me. “It’s an initiative to last into the future.”
–All photographs by Dani Desio–