I’ve been reading Waterways Ireland’s Lakelands & Inland Waterways Strategic Plan 2010–2015, available from its website. It’s not quite accurate to describe it as WI’s document:
- the Foreword is signed by two people, Martin Dennany of WI and Kevin Kidney of Fáilte Ireland East & Midlands Region, suggesting that theirs are the two most important organisations
- the Foreword mentions four organisations as having been working together: Waterways Ireland, Fáilte Ireland, Shannon Development and Fermanagh Lakeland Tourism
- a list of “Organisations involved” mentions six: “The initiative is co-chaired by Waterways Ireland and Fáilte Ireland with cross border membership from Fermanagh Lakeland Tourism, Northern Ireland Tourism Board, Shannon Development and Tourism Ireland
- the next paragraph shows that four organisations provided the funding, with most of it coming from WI: “In the past three years, an annual marketing budget in excess of €500,000 has been made available for the initiative. Waterways Ireland has provided half the funding to the project per annum with the balance being provided by Fáilte Ireland, Shannon Development and Fermanagh District Council.”
My understanding is that this is WI’s baby, and the fact that they provide half the loot lends support to that view.
The initiative ipse
The initiative itself seems to me to be a good idea, although it is regrettable that it does not cover the whole of the WI network. The Lower Bann, the Barrow and the eastern ends of the Grand (Tullamore to Dublin) and the Royal (Mullingar to Dublin) are not included, and I do not know whether they get the same level of marketing support.
The purpose of the initiative is defined thus:
The purpose of the Lakelands and Inland Waterways marketing and product development initiative is to make sure that the rich tourism and recreation assets of the heart of Ireland are presented to visitors. It is aimed at differentiating the Midlands from other parts of Ireland and establishing an identity and a brand for the area based on its unique selling proposition – the Lakelands and Inland Waterways. This marketing, product and destination development initiative provides a mechanism to achieve a targeted and coordinated approach by the tourism, recreation and hospitality industry to
attracting people to enjoy and experience the area.
If we put up with the marketing jargon (and the painful sentence “Key lakes include … Lough Key ….”), I think we can accept that this is a good idea, for at least four reasons:
- it might provide some additional tourist income
- it puts the waterways in context, widening the focus from just the water and the boats thereon
- it helps to provide a justification for the €39,000,000 or so that Waterways Ireland spends (you can download its accounts from this page). Its operating income (which seems to be what boaters pay: if anyone can qualify this, please do so) is only €218,000
- it links WI into another part of the power structure of the states (UK and Ireland), giving a second line of defence if the protection that WI derives from crossborderality should fail.
What’s in the plan
The document has 44 pages, of which six (including the front and back pages) are just pictures. Another page is taken up by a map of the area, which is useful, and another by a list of contents, so we are left with 36 pages of material:
- Foreword (1 page)
- description of the area and the initiative (1 page)
- overview of achievements to date (1 page)
- description of organisations involved (1 page)
- vision for tourism in the region (1 page, most of which is a photo)
- mission (ditto)
- key objectives (1 page)
- key tourism markets (3 pages)
- action plan for product development (4 pages, one containing just one sentence)
- action plan marketing plan (2 pages)
- action plan destination development and management (2 pages, one containing just a diagram)
- action plan stakeholder engagement (1 page)
- Appendix I key opportunities and key challenges (2 pages)
- Appendix II infrastructure investment (land-based 7 pages, water-based 4 pages)
- Appendix III what kind of visitors does the area have now? (2 pages)
- Appendix IV promotional activities 2007–2009 (2 pages).
“But what good came of it at last?”
Quoth little Peterkin.
“Why that I cannot tell,” said he,
“But ’twas a famous victory.”
(Robert Southey After Blenheim 1796)
Note that 14 of the 36 pages are devoted to the past. But they concentrate on inputs, on the activities of the participating organisations, and we learn nothing of the difference they made to tourist numbers and spending. Even the “Achievements to date” have nothing to say on effectiveness:
Achievements to Date
Key successes of the initiative up to the end of 2009 have included:
• The development of an identity for the Midlands of Ireland and its waterways, including a website and a suite of marketing and other materials for the Lakelands and Inland Waterways area.
• Undertaking a comprehensive product audit for the area.
• Tourism Ireland now promote Lakelands & Inland Waterways across all overseas markets as a key destination.
• Establishing product development targets and commitments for the area within the National Development Plan.
• Formulation of a set of product development studies for sections of the waterway and corridor, providing an opportunity to focus activity and avoid duplication of effort.
• Ensuring buy-in from a range of organisations such as County Councils, LEADER, Tourism Groups, Town Councils, Hotels and other key stakeholders.
These are all admirable activities, but were there any more tourists?
Appendix II shows total land-based spending of € 16,737,170 plus £1,574,070 and water-based spending of €3,721,510 (I had to add that up myself, so you may want to check it: no totals were provided). The period over which the land-based amounts were spent is not stated; the figures for water-based spending include some items completed in 2007, so it may be that some of that spending relates to periods before 2007.
The more important point here, though, is that we have no measure of the effectiveness of that spending. We don’t even know what measures (if any) are used. How will WI and the other organisations know whether their spending is worth while?
An Irish plan
This matters because the plan sets four “key” (that word should be banned. But perhaps a waterways body, having to do with locks and loughs, finds its mind running on keys — and quays too) objectives:
1. Sustain and Grow
To continue to grow the number of visitors and market share for the Lakelands and Inland Waterways in order to sustain the tourism, hospitality and recreational businesses base.
2. Improve the Visitor Experience
Working with the tourism and hospitality trade to provide a more coherent visitor experience through improved quality and stronger linkages between attractions and services in the area.
3. Build Shared Brand Awareness
To focus marketing through the Lakelands and Inland Waterways brand and to ensure that the tourism and hospitality trade have opportunities to participate in and benefit from the Lakelands and Inland Waterways promotions.
4. Secure New Investment
To grow new and incremental investment in tourism infrastructure and through the product development process provide a wider range of recreation and activity opportunities and tourism products and services.
The second, third and fourth of those are, though, merely steps towards the achievement of the first (which is not to say that they will be easily taken: the securing of new investment will be particularly difficult).
But the strategic plan doesn’t have numbers: no report on past performance, no numbers for current targets.
The other thing it doesn’t have is any clear link between the four objectives and the four action plans (for product development, marketing, destination development & management and stakeholder engagement). Waffle like this doesn’t help:
This action plan will be taken forward with a wider set of partners. It addresses the need to ensure that the destination of the Lakelands and Inland Waterways fulfils the expectations of tourists and recreational visitors. It addresses issues of: ….
Yes, but what is the plan? Who is going to do what, when, and with what resources? And how will success be measured? I would like to think that there are more detailed documents somewhere providing these details, but I am mindful of the wise advice of the late Father William of Ockham.
The absence of detail on implementation (what is to be done, when and how) makes the action plans read like wish-lists: the mark of an Irish plan. Furthermore, the four action plans read as if they were written by four different people, with little coordination, and there is a strange understanding of “focus”: the “key focus” for one part of the product development action plan has thirteen items, with another fifteen amongst the other four parts.
All in all, the plan as a whole does not seem to be either coherent or convincing. And, to turn to matters of detail, there are two omissions that seem rather strange.
First, here is an extract from a recent Waterways Ireland press release:
During October 2010 Waterways Ireland celebrated the completion of the restoration of the main line of the Royal Canal. The Royal Canal is a highly significant and historic public amenity; 145.6km long, it links Dublin to the Shannon Navigation at Richmond Harbour, Clondra, Co. Longford. With the restoration work completed, it is once again possible to travel the “auld triangle” of the Grand Canal, the Shannon Navigation and the Royal Canal. Waterways Irelands extends the warmest of welcomes to visitors to come to the Royal Canal and enjoy the ambience and rich heritage of this newest of old navigation routes.
Well, there’s nothing wrong with that. Very sensible to be promoting the Irish Ring (the “auld triangle” reference is likely to elude those unfamiliar with the oeuvre of the late Mr B Behan) and to be doing so at a British inland boat show. This is a major new product for Waterways Ireland, and offers the possibility of appealing to an under-exploited market, the British narrowboater.
So why, in the name of all that’s holy, does the Lakelands & Inland Waterways Strategic Plan, which covers a five-year period from the date of the Royal’s reopening, not have a single mention of the Royal Canal? Works completed at Clondra are mentioned, but the Royal is not, and nor is the Ring (or triangle, if you must). At the very least, this omission calls into question the value of any SWOT or similar analysis carried out as part of the strategic planning process.
The other omission is equally strange.
Some years ago Fáilte Ireland (which called itself the National Tourism Development Authority) produced an Inland Cruising Market Development Strategy. I gather there is a full report, available on demand, but I have only the short brochure, of 22 pages. It does market segmentation:
Using Tourism Ireland’s segmentation, primary target customer segments have been identified as ‘Sightseers and Culture Seekers’ and ‘Family & Loved Ones’. These segments have been selected on the basis of their importance in each of the targeted source markets (domestically and internationally) and the ability for inland cruising to credibly satisfy the needs of the segment. Secondary segments for strategy development purposes include ‘Relaxers’ and Outdoor Actives’. These segments have been selected for similar reasons but are deemed to offer a lower opportunity than those segments already selected.
The Lakelands & Inland Waterways Strategic Plan uses the first two of those segments, adds “Specialist Markets” but drops “Relaxers” and changes “Outdoor Actives” to “Outdoor Activities”.
The Fáilte Ireland brochure provides this stunningly perceptive insight:
Sightseers and culture seekers are interested in learning about the country and its culture, they like to admire the scenery, they like visiting historical sights and sightseeing and they like to experience the music and arts that are popular there. However, beyond this, and of crucial importance, are the experiences they have during their journey. They see themselves as living the culture rather than just observing it.
Who’d have thought?
Then it discusses the role of inland cruising:
An inland cruising holiday enables the ‘Sightseer & Culture Seekers’ to travel through the heart of our island, taking a real journey of experience, meeting a variety of people, (even sub-cultures) and engaging with our culture – past, present and future.
This segment is of particular importance to the markets of Great Britain, Germany and Switzerland.
Punctuation is copied from the original, by the way: I can’t keep inserting “[sic]”.
The L&IW Strategy is of course about more than cruising, but it says this about the Sightseers and Culture Seekers:
Experiences offered in Lakelands
and Inland Waterways area:
Shannon and Erne Journeys – car and boat based
Castles and Gardens
OK: there are some folk interested in Christian stuff, and in how the other half lived, but there are also people who are interested in industrial heritage, including transport heritage.
And, as it happens, Waterways Ireland owns quite a lot of transport heritage stuff. They don’t have to go out to Secure New Investment: the stuff is just sitting there, and much of it is in daily use. Locks, bridges, bollards, weirs, docks, dunnies … the sort of stuff you find on this website. WI commissioned a heritage survey in 2009, so it knows what it has. Yet there is no mention in the L&IWSP of waterways heritage, industrial heritage or transport heritage. Why not?