An Irish Anglers World

Thoughts on Marketing Ireland’s Angling Product.

By the time this article is published the Global Irish Economic Forum held in Dublin Castle during the first week in October will be a distant memory and “The Gathering” initiative proposed at that meeting of the great and the good, earmarked as the tourism drive for 2013, will be starting to gain momentum at a cost to the country of between €14 and €16 million. Targeted to generate an estimated €220 million by enticing up to 350,000 of the 70 million Diaspora who claim Irish ancestry abroad, it is indeed a bold and worthy plan. However, removing all the bells, whistles, and razzmatazz will it be taxpayer’s money well spent, and when it comes to utilising the funding are there alternative ways and methods worth considering? Given that the money comes out of both yours and my pockets the question is legitimate and worth expanding upon.

Angling tourism is worth an understated €100 million to the Irish economy give or take. Measured in terms of visitor numbers statistically approximately 142,000 people who travel to Ireland participate in rod and line fishing during their stay of which 33% engage in either sea or game fishing respectively, with a further 19% travelling to coarse fish, the remaining percentage of angling visitors being unspecified as to their chosen discipline. In terms of market distribution 58% of tourist anglers come from the United Kingdom while 40% travel from mainland Europe, France, Germany, and Holland being the key countries (Figures derived from CSO country of residence survey and Failte Ireland survey of overseas travellers 2008).

A group of happy Welsh sea anglers ready for a day out off Kilmore Quay, Co. Wexford, Ireland.

Historically Ireland recognised its angling resource in the early 1950’s and through the work of the Inland Fisheries Trust (established in 1951) set about improving our inland waterways, in particular the midland and great western lakes as trout fisheries, and promoting in conjunction with Bord Failte Irish angling abroad. A modal was established then which in principal still exists today whereby foreign angling journalists were invited to travel and fish Ireland’s inland and inshore fisheries, subsequent to publishing articles in angling magazines or writing books to include chapters on Irish rod and line fishing within the covers. Some such as Clive Gammon wrote complete books on the subject, his “Salt Water Fishing in Ireland” being a classic of its genre.

Encouraging the setting up of local angling clubs and over time the development of festivals and competitions also became a key element of the strategy, enticing individuals and groups of anglers to travel and fish Ireland’s then prolific waters. Word of mouth about the wonderful catches experienced rounded the circle and our angling product was born.

Tourism Ireland Promotional Back Drop.

There is no doubt that the collaboration between Bord Failte, split now into Failte Ireland (home market) and Tourism Ireland (foreign market) and the Fisheries Board (now Inland Fisheries Ireland) in its various guises over the years has been very successful in getting the message out as to the quality of Irish angling. Indeed this historic forward thinking and team play between government agencies has to be commended creating a tourism product that we all can be proud of.

Sixty years on though in the depths of probably the deepest global recession in modern history and post the Genesis/Failte Ireland “A New Strategy for Irish Angling Tourism 2007 – 2010”, will Ireland’s angling promotions modal which is still deeply rooted in the modus operandi set up some 50 years before deliver its contribution to “The Gathering” of 2013, or will it fall short? In this digital, sound bite led, shrunken and extremely accessible world of today, where the competition has definitely caught up is Ireland marketing an angling product that cuts the mustard through media that delivers results, and more importantly is there room for innovative ideas and thinking to further strengthen that message?

As a home tourist angler living in Ireland, yes there is such a being, my experience is that the message is too general and needs to be sharpened up greatly. From what can be caught, where and when, to venues, boat hire, deep sea charters, fishing guides, angler friendly accommodation, local amenities, pubs and restaurants. The full gamut of a fishing holiday experience needs to be presented in a focused medium that is easily accessible. Time today is limited and money hard come by, it is important for visitors to hit the ground running when planning a fishing break. A good experience could mean possible repeat business for the services used, so it is vital to get the mix right.

A group of Dutch coarse anglers who have subsequently made a return visit to Co. Monaghan, Ireland.

Rationalising that I was not the only person who felt this way I decided to do my own little bit for angling tourism by setting up a blog/information website which I called, A labour of love it went online in April 2010. Eighteen months later the site has topped 5000 visitors per month and rising, of which 20% are from the UK. The information contained, centred on my own fishing experiences within Ireland, is current, user friendly, and most importantly according to Google analytics the content is read. Feedback from the site has backed up a lot of my views and provided some interesting information.

Relative to this article I want to be positive, there is far too much negativity circulating at present. It is my firm belief that changes need to be made in our collective approach to selling Ireland’s angling product both at home and abroad. To put things in perspective I am not a salmon angler, a great western trout lakes aficionado, nor do I fish competitions of any discipline. My interests are sea angling, fly fishing on rivers, pike fishing, and coarse fishing. That said I do fish lakes for trout and suppose if the truth be known would fish in a puddle. My experience tells me that the principals regarding angling promotion cross reference all disciplines, so the points put forward in this piece most certainly should apply nationally.

Prioritising, access, networking, and collaboration are the key words to concentrate on in formulating a successful Irish angling marketing strategy ongoing. The country maybe skint, with state funding and manpower reduced, but they’re not excuses to do nothing, instead they are an invitation to be smart and innovative.

Alan Duthie chairperson of SWWASAC on holidays in Kilmore Quay, Co.

The average small service business working in the tourist angling sector is doing well currently to turnover a years income. Equally the people involved do not have the time or maybe the expertise to market themselves. Failte Ireland produces a fantastic general message but each individual business needs something more specific. I believe that a combination of business, community, and local councils driven by key staff working under contract for or within the state sector can provide the answer. Put simply, one full time professional person paid by the state, working on a contract or full time basis, driving a range of key projects forward can achieve great things in a short period of time, with most importantly tangible results.

Having worked on two initiatives based on the above premise I know that the idea works. To illustrate, The South West Wales Association of Sea Angling Clubs has a membership of 3500. A letter to their chairperson asking to meet with regard to setting up links between Kilmore Quay, Co. Wexford and the Swansea area, culminated in a presentation showcasing Wexford sea angling to 70 SWWASAC members back in September 2009. Since then according to figures supplied by SWWASAC chairman Alan Duthie, 300 members have made the journey to Ireland, most having never travelled to fish before. Averaging 5 bed nights and spending easily €1000.00 per head, that’s €300.000 for an outlay of less than a grand. Quite obviously money well spent.

Multiply that across a number of projects over a twelve month period and you have a serious return on investment that is fully accountable. Furthermore real contacts are made in a business sense, while relationships are formed which can work the oracle for many years to come. With funding and budgets tight we need to think smart, the above is an illustration of true public service and not the state stepping in where it shouldn’t.

Mr Sea Angling Ireland, Norman Dunlop.

To compliment the above approach it is important that the product on offer matches up. Again using Kilmore Quay to illustrate, funding was put forward through Failte Ireland to assess the offshore wreck fishing potential with regard to enhancing Kilmore’s deep sea angling product offering. Initial results were promising but unfortunately funding dried up with more work still needing to be done. A gap of two years has lost the momentum. That said based on initial findings, should the project be seen through Kilmore has a very bright future. The lesson being, don’t do projects piece meal, if they are worth starting then finish them.

In the formative days of Irish angling promotion a hands on, pioneering, and innovative approach by stalwarts working for the state such as Des Brennan and latterly Norman Dunlop utilising similar methods to those described above was adopted with much success. In recent years these work practices seem to have been dropped in my opinion to the detriment of the angling services sector. Ireland needs professional ambassadors to meet, greet, and develop business relationships with key players within the industry. Again this is where I believe the state can play a blinder working full time on behalf of the general public. Angling tourism is an export product worth €100 million annually, state agencies such as Bord Bia have such people, so why not Inland Fisheries Ireland.

If Inland Fisheries Ireland and or county councils employ/contract suitably qualified key personnel to develop business in the above manner, I believe that angling can play a major role in contributing to the 300,000 plus visitors that the “Gathering” hopes to entice to Ireland in 2013. It is vital that expenditure results in tangible figures for bums on seats. Working closely and forging links with overseas associations, clubs, and key industry people can achieve this level of accountability, an important factor in our current economic climate.

It would need a thesis to cover all angles (excuse the pun) of Ireland’s angling product marketing mix. Infrastructure, use of social media, networking, journalistic media, fish stocks, and environmental matters all topics that need to be explored. As a taster though and to spark necessary debate as to how best utilise and develop a key natural resource in a tourism context, state agencies applying private sector business development methods through key staff, working under temporary or permanent contracts, will generate real returns for very little spend. Cold calling, knocking on doors, wearing out shoe leather, and developing contacts are almost clichés in the business world, not sexy, usually do not command photo shoots, but are the basis of all sales. In recent years from my perspective Irish public service organisations responsible for angling promotion have forgotten those principals; they need to embrace them again if rod and line tourism’s contribution to the “Gathering” is to succeed in 2013. As an old boss of mine used to say, “If you don’t prospect and ask for the order, and more importantly don’t get the money in, you don’t have a sale”. Think on it….

Ashley Hayden © October 2011