“Your life is so fluid. Everything’s always changing. The way you think it’s going to unfold is not the way it’s going to unfold. That’s the fun of the whole exercise, and the gift!”
It’s hard to believe that 2 years have passed since we took our first tentative steps along the road of Waterford Camino Tours. We could never have imagined the craziness of all that would follow, and now, after an eventful and sometimes scary adventure, we sense that we are arriving at where we want to be. There are no guarantees. Step by step, we’ve kept moving forward no matter how steep the gradient. Step by step, we kept learning. 2 years on, it’s good to take stock!
The hardest lessons are the ones that teach the most! We’ve had to dust ourselves down from time to time and work our way through the haze when the elements have conspired against us. The tourism world has its own unique logic that you only come to understand when you become part of it. Tour operators have been our holy grail. Some promise you everything but rarely deliver; others are more genuine. You quickly learn to distinguish between the two. Our antennae have become more finely tuned. Sometimes you’ve just got to hang in there, be guided by your gut instinct and trust the universe to look after the rest. If you gravitate towards the right people, things fall into place in ways that can surprise.
There’s something about the great outdoors that keeps you on an even keel no matter what the world throws at you. Nature offers real perspective when it’s needed most. Charting a new course can bring with it adventure and peril in equal measure. It takes time to find your bearings. There’s an ebb and flow to the world of business that you need to adjust to – one day you’re cruising effortlessly with the wind at your back, the next facing into the harshest of storms. We try to keep the pace the same regardless of the conditions. We live in Tramore and we love nothing more than to walk the sand dunes loop when the tide is out. As the waters roll to the shore with reassuring ease, we sense that all will be well. No proof, just the universe reminding us that we are not alone.
It’s so important to be true to yourself in business and in life. The world can pull you in ways that are not meant for you. We’ve learned to stay focused on our own goals and aspirations especially when tested. Others may want what you offer tailored to suit their needs, not yours. This is where judgement comes in. If you tone down what makes you you, you become something that is not you. Simple as! If you move to the rhythm of others, you lose precisely what makes you unique and end up compromising everything that is important to you. It’s hard not to sell out to the dictates of a commercial world when the spoils of trade are dangled before you. We’re happy to steer our own course.
“This one step – choosing a goal and sticking to it – changes everything.” (Scott Reed)
It is good on occasion to project beyond what’s around you and anticipate what lies further down the path. Tourism in Waterford has evolved from ‘bucket and spade’ beach tourism through the 1900s to something altogether different today. The House of Waterford Crystal and The Viking Triangle are welcome additions to the tourism landscape in the city. They will always remain signature tourist attractions for visitors to the area. But they combined are not enough to keep people here. The Waterford Greenway is a ‘game-changer’, a meandering corridor bridging the city and the county for locals and visitors alike. Places like Dungarvan, Kilmacthomas, Kilmeaden are buzzing to a new beat and it’s infectious. Just under 300,000 people were on the Waterford Greenway last year. Something new is stirring!
Waterford can become a place to stay and not just visit. We’ve all seen the coaches pull up late afternoon to hotels along the Quay, weary passengers traipse in for evening dinner and their night’s rest, with maybe a short walk thrown in for good measure, then packed up and gone early morning to visit the Crystal or Treasures. By lunchtime the next day, they’re kissing the Blarney Stone en route to Killarney. There is so much more to our city and county that they never get to see. Close to 600,000 foreign visitors came to Waterford last year, of the 9 million that came to Ireland. Most stayed less than a day. Therein lies the challenge.
Our city and county is perfectly positioned to become a leading “slow time” tourism destination in Northern Europe. We in Waterford Camino Tours believe that a shift is happening, a movement of sorts towards more mindful, reflective breaks, that blend the great outdoors with history and culture into one really memorable experience. What this new generation of tourist wants is ‘time-out’ to re-charge the batteries and to connect to something deeper in the universe and in themselves. Don’t get me wrong. They love their few drinks, their good food, their live music – their down time. The two are not incompatible. Visitors want to come off the beaten track, dabble their toes in the the beauty of the place, unwind and be invigorated by all that they encounter along the way.
Waterford has what it takes to deliver this in abundance. We’ve had 364 people share in our Camino experiences last year. Most are coming back! They love the place and are in no rush to leave. What we have is marketable, sellable and sustainable. We can do green tourism here and do it with unrivalled ease – without the queues, crowds or tailbacks that visitors elsewhere have to contend with. Our county is relatively undiscovered as a tourism destination. Whilst the figures for tourists on the Wild Atlantic Way in the West of Ireland have soared in the last decade, their ‘bucket list’ attractions are reaching saturation point. Places like the Burren, the Ring of Kerry, the Cliffs of Moher simply cannot handle the coach traffic in peak summer. Over-heating there can work in our favour here.
We are on the cusp on a time of real opportunity when it comes to tourism in Waterford. To mark our 2nd anniversary in business we held a tourism summit in Waterford Treasures recently where we invited key playmakers in the tourism world around the county and beyond to articulate a new shared vision for tourism in the South East. It gave a very positive and upbeat assessment of where things could be if we pool our energies and resources together to draw more tourists to the region. From stunning coastline adventures, to mountain trails to river trips down the Blackwater Valley to mystical tours around the hallowed surrounds of Lismore Castle, we’ve got it all here on our doorstep. We just need to package it and sell it in a way that meets the standards that the visitor looks for. This is starting to happen!
“Change is the law of life. and those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”
Imagine the current Greenway extending down the track to New Ross and then on to Rosslare over the next 10 years. Very likely! Then imagine Dunmore East Cliff Walk opening up from Portally Cove to Brownstown Head and on to Tramore in the next few years. Again, very likely. Move on to the Copper Coast UNESCO Global Geopark. There are plans there to connect Anne Valley in Dunhill to the Waterford Greenway at Mount Congreve in the near future. A corridor from the Waterford Greenway to Crough Woods on to the Mahon Falls brings the Comeraghs into the picture before ultimately linking up with St. Declan’s Way in Ardmore. Put the dots together and you realise that we have the potential to roll out something that will change the face of tourism in the South East for generations to come.
We’ve learned that to build success we need the right team of people around us. Collaboration is the name of the game and we’ve refined our product in recent months to reflect the people we want to work with and the places we want our visitors to stay in. We had over 300 of our guests stay in the Tower Hotel last year. They loved it; the welcome, the food, the new rooms, even the Manager, Seamus O’ Carroll, sitting with them over breakfast to check in on how their Camino was going. We’re branching out this year to include Faithlegg House Hotel, Woodhouse Estate, Stradbally and Whiting Bay, Ardmore. We’re also teaming up with Brian Lynch at Suirway Coaches to provide luxury coach transfers for all our tours. We take pride in our standards and we are looking forward to rolling out signature Waterford Camino experiences in the city and county in the months and years ahead.
As I write, we’ve just received confirmation of our first American group booking for May of this year. After all the hard yards, we can begin to see the pathway ahead open up before us. I guess you can only do so much. Give it your all and trust the universe to deliver the rest! Life does not always listen to your logic. Guess there is a higher order running the show.
Dr. Phil Brennan and his wife Elaine invite you to share in one of their specially tailored Caminos through Waterford County during 2019. The Waterford Camino experience blends walks/cycles, motivational talks and music. For further information, stay tuned to waterfordcamino.com or email Phil and Elaine directly at firstname.lastname@example.org