It has been a year like no other with the coronavirus grinding life as we knew it to a halt, people falling ill, businesses closing, jobs being lost and fear taking a grip as hospitals and medical personnel struggled with the enormity of what faced them.
But, despite the necessary lockdowns that frequently turned the county’s most successful tourist destination into a sleepy almost still version of its usual self, Killarney held firm, gritted its teeth and is preparing to return with a vengeance when life eventually begins to get back to as near to normal as it can be.
As if the Covid-19 pandemic wasn’t enough to contend with, Killarney’s business and tourism community also had to plan for Brexit with worries about the impact the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union would have on the all-important holiday market from Britain.
The economic circumstances were hardly ideal for businessman PAUL SHERRY as he took over as President of Killarney Chamber of Tourism and Commerce for a two-year tenure which has just come to an end.
Here he reflects on his term in office, the challenges it brought, how Killarney and Kerry responded so magnificently when the road ahead looked anything but smooth and how he hopes the town and its businesses can rebuild as early as possible in the new year.
BECOMING President of Killarney Chamber of Tourism and Commerce was never on my radar.
It is not something that one seeks out or that you put your hand up for. Nor is it something that should be taken lightly and once in the role, you quickly realise that it is a very important position.
You also realise the very important place Killarney holds a business town and at the high altar of tourism, both within the county and nationally.
When you become Chamber President, as has been pointed out to me on more than one occasion over the last while, you are selected and not elected and I think perhaps that is how it should be.
As the representative body for business and tourism, Chamber is well respected within the county and nationally and I am very proud to have been selected to lead the organisation for a two-year term
With Brexit and Covid-19 as a backdrop to my tenure, it was always going to be difficult to find something to define my term so I decided that, at times like this, it is best to keep doing the things you do well and try and keep the ship afloat and the show on the road. Thankfully, the show is still on the road and we are still very much afloat.
There are some things that we have worked on, despite the pandemic, and some of the initiatives that I am particularly proud to have been involved with are the following:
Kerry Tourism Industry Federation
I was delighted to be involved in the process to set up the organisation with all the other stakeholders from all over the county. When we were asked to nominate a representative for the board of the organisation we were fortunate to have Pat O’ Leary, the former Managing Director of Liebherr Container Cranes Ltd, to come forward and Pat assumed the role of chairman of the board, giving us a strong voice within.
Pat was later asked to join the Tourism Recovery Task Force set up by the government and he has been working diligently on our behalf and on behalf of tourism in the county.
Irish Tourism Industry Confederation
Earlier in the year Killarney Chamber obtained a seat at the table of Irish Tourism Industry Confederation, in association with our partners, IHF Kerry and Kerry Airport. This is indeed the high altar of Irish tourism and it represents an important step for Killarney. We are fortunate to be represented here by Niamh O’Shea who keeps us updated and ensures our voice is heard within this important body.
About the time I was taking over from Paul O’Neill two years ago, we had started to become engaged with the other Chambers in Kerry and joined the body now known as the Kerry Chambers. This has provided an insight into how other towns function, it has provided a stronger lobbying voice and it has given us access to the lobbying power of Chambers Ireland through the auspices of Tralee Chamber Alliance.
Business and Economic Forum
With the onset of Covid-19 and the pandemic, we became involved with Kerry Business and Economic Stakeholders Forum, set up by Kerry County Council CEO Moira Murrell and the council, to try and address the challenges that the pandemic was presenting for business and to plan for a recovery and exit from the crisis. This forum is ongoing and the challenges have been tackled.
During this period, we have continued to work with our partners in Kerry County Council and the Killarney Municipal District.
Lobbying has become a very important part of our role in recent times and we have been consistently meeting with TDs and councillors and all the other groups I mentioned throughout this year, working on behalf of the town.
Welcome to Space
Chamber was especially pleased to be able to invest in excess of €30,000, supported by Kerry County Council, in the Space marketing campaign. For the first time in a very long time, we embarked on a collaborative Killarney focused digital marketing campaign over the period 17 June to 9 August.
The campaign had a social media audience reach of nearly 800,000 and the overall campaign had a total online reach of 5.7 million impressions. This, taken with the Kerry Tourism Industry Federation and Fáilte Ireland campaigns are, without doubt, contributing factors to the very good summer season we managed to achieve.
We were informed by Fáilte Ireland that the top two go-to destinations for staycations following lockdown were Killarney and Galway.
Killarney Chamber was delighted to be able to lighten the mood and keep you engaged and occupied during those early lockdown weeks. I very much enjoyed my weekly slot and sharing with members what I hope they found a very wide and informative range of webinars to support and help direct members during a most difficult period.
Two separate surveys – Let’s Talk About Town and Killarney Visitor Sentiment 2020 were spearheaded by Chamber. The Let’s Talk About Town project was an extensive online survey assisted by our colleagues in the local media, Killarney Today.com, Killarney Outlook and Killarney Advertiser which elicited a response of 1,330 completions and addressed what the people of Killarney want from their town across a range of topics. There was a huge amount of very interesting findings which you will have seen in the press.
The survey findings were presented to our local representatives and Kerry County Council and, hopefully, the findings will be very useful in helping them make key decisions when formulating the public realm plan for Killarney.
The customer sentiment survey was carried out towards the end of August by Repucon Consulting to obtain visitor feedback on how well Killarney performs across a range of issues from a tourist’s perspective.
Overall, the findings were hugely positive with some excellent results that will be useful in feeding into the work that is being done with Fáilte Ireland, Kerry County Council, the NPWS and other stakeholders in relation to the Killarney Gateway Project.
We have been engaged for the last 18 months working with Fáilte Ireland, Kerry County Council, NPWS, IHF, vintners and a host of other stakeholders in developing a plan that aims to develop Killarney as a world class sustainable tourist destination into the future. The plan is nearing completion and sign off by all stakeholders is expected prior to Christmas. This project has the potential to greatly improve Killarney’s standing and to become the world class destination we know it to be.
The walking trail and car park development at Tomies is complete. This is a long-awaited piece of infrastructure that will add hugely to the outdoor experience offer and we are very grateful to Deputy Brendan Griffin who secured the funding for this project. Work has commenced on the Flesk cycleway and walkway which potentially links the two parks of Knockreer and Muckross. The planning process is complete, funding secured and works have commenced. Both projects are to be welcomed and we are very grateful to Kerry County Council for getting this one over the line.
Festivals and Events
It hasn’t really been a year for festivals and events, for obvious reasons. Suffice to say, it is our great hope that most, if not all, our festivals will return at some stage in 2021 when we will be, one hopes, officially post pandemic.
Christmas in Killarney has not gone away you will have seen the marquees housing the floats in three different locations around the town, the lights are up and we have again invested heavily in Christmas.
Even if we were to do nothing it would still cost €20,000 each year just to stand still. We have invested €20,000 in the marquee presentation and an additional €25,000 in lighting and repairs. Killarney tidy towns has invested big money in new lighting features for the town which will all add to the overall ambiance.
My term as Chamber President has been an amazing time and it has been a pleasure to represent the amazing town of Killarney. I want to thank all my colleagues on the executive, Kellie, Brid and Oonagh in the office, and all the members for their incredible support.
I wish to acknowledge my colleagues on the St Patrick’s Festival Committee, the 4th of July celebration and the Wander Wild Festival.
It has been a huge pleasure working with Eileen O’Donoghue, Eileen O’Connor and all the staff and officers of both Kerry County Council and the Killarney Municipal District. I want to acknowledge the support of the Mayor of Killarney and all the elected members who work so diligently on behalf of Killarney.
Finally, I wish to take the opportunity to wish everybody in Killarney a happy, prosperous and Covid free 2021.
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