Ireland’s visitor attractions have joined forces under one umbrella organisation to give the sector a voice within the tourism sector and at local and government level.
“The question is why no one thought of it before,” Guinness Storehouse Managing Director Paul Carty, Chairman of the newly-established Association of Visitor Experiences & Attractions, said at the launch of AVEA in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.
He said the idea for the AVEA came about after a meeting with Michael Counahan, Managing Director of CHL Consulting, when both felt the need for a national body to represent the “very fragmented” attractions sector – spread around the country and massively varying in size – in the tourism field.
“The experiences sector in Ireland was at a crossroads – it [an organisation]needed to happen at this stage.” Paul Carty added: “We invited 100 visitor attractions to the Guinness Storehouse and got an immediate response of 50. There was a desire to make this association happen.”
While pressing the sector’s case on the national stage, AVEA is also aiming to promote professionalism in the market “and develop core skills”, he said, and the gathering was told that there’s a scarcity of third-level training in key skills such as “creativity, front-of-house and retail”.
Membership is open to visitor attractions such as gardens, museums and historic buildings and visitor experiences, including farm visits, guided walks and theatres.
With Minister of State for Tourism and Transport Patrick O’Donovan unable to attend the launch due to the Irish boxing storm, Paul Keeley, head of business development at Fáilte Ireland, stood in. “We guess-timate that there are around 22,000 jobs in the visitor attraction sector, and there are no doubts that can be grown.” He said that of the €125m in funding earmarked by the body for tourism, “the lion’s share will go to the attractions space”. Given that it’s taxpayers’ money, he said the launch of AVEA was welcome in putting the sector on an ever more professional curve and ensuring value for money and joined-up thinking.
AVEA’s board features some of the best-known individuals from visitor attractions and experiences – Ann Daly (Head of Marketing, the National Museum of Ireland), Michael Counahan (Managing Director, CHL Consulting), Seán Connick (Chief Executive, John F Kennedy Trust, New Ross), Denise Brophy (Managing Director, Dublinia), Anne-Marie Diffley (Visitor Services Manager, Trinity College), Biddy Hughes (Sales and Marketing Director, Westport House), Pat Ó Súilleabháin (Managing Director, National Sea Life Centre, Bray) and John Ruddle (Chief Executive, Shannon Heritage).
The organisation is encouraging attractions, no matter the size, to apply of membership or more information on www.avea.ie