Cuilcagh Mountain Park, a key tourism and heritage site in the Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark.

Geopark’s sustainable training scheme a success

A new pilot sustainability scheme for tourism businesses within the Marble Arch UNESCO Global Geopark (MACUGG) area has been hailed a success.

The initiative, which began last year, saw eight enterprises from both sides of the border take part in a tailor-made ‘Sustainability Business Training Programme’, with the aim of implementing sustainability practices in line with the Geopark’s charter.

“We were delighted with the positive feedback and engagement by the eight businesses who took part in this pilot scheme. Following evaluation of this programme we plan to extend it to the wider Geopark community,” Tara Smith, development officer for tourism and business, MACUGG said.

As visitor numbers continue to rise, particularly to popular sites such as Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail, Marble Arch Caves, Cavan Burren Park and Tullydermot Falls, the Geopark is looking at ways of how to encourage visitors to stay and explore the area for longer.

Chair of the Geopark Committee, Councillor John Paul Feeley commented: “Engagement with the local business community is a key priority for the MACUGG in driving sustainable economic development within the Geopark.”

The training was delivered by one of Ireland’s leading tourism consultants, ‘The Tourism Space’ on behalf of MACUGG, with a cross section of enterprises taking part. Four of the businesses came from Cavan. They were Drummully Boxty, The Keepers Arms, Cavan Adventure Centre and The Anglers Rest and the remainder from Fermanagh were Rushin House Caravan Park, Tullymill Restaurant, Dulrush Fishing Lodge and Corralea Adventure Centre.

Earlier this week, all the businesses attended an online presentation ceremony, where they received their certificates virtually. Also in attendanacce were Cllr John Feeley and Tara Smith; as well as John Toland, LEADER Section, Breffni Integrated CLG (Cavan County Local Development) and Tina O’Dwyer of The Tourism Space.

The training programme is one element of a LEADER funded cooperation project between Cavan and Fermanagh Local Action Groups aimed at enhancing the visitor experience around the ‘Cuilcagh Mountain Experience’, a popular focal point within the Geopark, which has seen a surge in visitors. Other elements of this funded cross border project include upgrades to infrastructure, a new brand identity and website for the Geopark and a PR and marketing plan.

Funding for the projects was through a €474,000/ £420,000 Leader grant awarded to Fermanagh and Omagh District Council and Cavan County Council, who jointly manage the Geopark. This project was part funded under Priority 6 (LEADER) of the Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and the European Union and part funded by the Irish Government Under the LEADER Programme 2014-2020.

Delivered over a four-month period, the sustainability training programme for businesses included online presentations, group exercises and one to one training sessions.

“Even though COVID-19 disrupted plans for field trips within the Geopark and to other locations, the networking and training initiative stayed on track,” Tina O’Dwyer of The Tourism Space said.

Ms O’Dwyer said that during the training, the participants learned about the importance of sustainable tourism and the ways in which they could take action within their own businesses. It was also an opportunity for many of the businesses to forge new connections and build a Geopark business network.

The programme was divided into three key strands. The first gave practical steps on how each business could save energy, water, and reduce waste, while the second strand outlined how each could contribute to the Geopark community and destination, for example through biodiversity, geodiversity, community engagement and education. Finally, the last module was about how sustainable practices could be used as part of each businesses’ marketing and PR strategy.

One of the highlights of the course was a ‘Virtual’ Field Trip, which saw businesses from the award-winning Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark share their experiences with the group.

“Building connections between the businesses and between the two Geopark’s was a key objective of this programme. We know that collaboration takes time and commitment, as does developing sustainable practices within businesses and within the Geopark,” O’Dwyer concluded.