The Impact of The Gathering on Ireland’s Tourism and Environment

By Laura  Chapman

Three months into its year of festivals , tourism initiative The Gathering 2013  is proving to be extremely successful. The initiative was set up to encourage people from all over the world to visit Ireland and to enjoy a year-long series of festivals and events to demonstrate the real heart of Ireland and its culture.

Tourism on the rise

Fáilte Ireland, Ireland’s National Tourism Development Authority, recently reported that Dublin hotels saw yet another increase in occupancy over St Patrick’s Day weekend and enjoyed substantially improved levels of business compared to 2012. St Patrick’s Day unofficially marks the start of the tourism season in Ireland, and this report suggests that an increase in tourism is set to continue over the course of the year. This is excellent news for Ireland’s economy, but how will the environment cope with increasing numbers of tourists?

Environmental awareness

While Ecotourism Ireland has been doing all it can to ensure that tourism operations are sustainable, other companies within the tourism industry have also been assessing the environmental impact of their businesses and trying to make the appropriate changes. The cruise industry, for example, has been developing new methods of providing environmentally friendly cruises without having to compromise on luxury and enjoyment. Cruise firms have been making changes wherever they can to reduce the negative impact of the service that they provide, from fuel usage to ship design. This means that tourists heading to Ireland for The Gathering can make a holiday of their journey without it having too negative an impact on the environment. Meanwhile, airlines have been investing time and money into researching more efficient ways of air travel, as well as opportunities to offset their carbon footprints. British Airways has developed ‘One Destination’, a corporate responsibility programme ensuring that they are doing what they can to benefit the community and the environment. They have been looking at every area of their business and identifying what changes they can make, such as reducing the amount of materials that they use and investing in the development of biofuels.

An environmentally friendly gathering

In its busy programme of events including music, sport, theatre and dance, The Gathering will incorporate events that will highlight some of Ireland’s key environmental concerns. The Saving the Hedgerows event in July and August, for example, is a workshop designed to educate visitors on the importance of protecting Ireland’s hedgerows. It will involve hedgerow fauna to good use in everything from medicine to pot pourri, while also providing participants with the opportunity to socialise over a light lunch. On a slightly larger scale, the Better Building Conference in Dublin at the end of April will see a number of high profile speakers and industry experts addressing an international audience on the importance of sustainability in the construction of new buildings. The theme for this year’s conference is ‘Leading Environmental Innovation in Europe’, and will explore Ireland’s role in the industry, including its exports of green products and services to construction industries worldwide.

Shortly after the Better Building Conference, an International Congress on Planted Forests will be held, also in Dublin, which will focus on ecosystem services linked to planted forests. A century ago, Ireland was the most deforested country in Europe, but its forest cover has since increased from just 1.5% to over 10%. The congress will take place over two days and is designed to give international foresters the chance to learn from Irish foresters, as well as sharing their own ideas on the sustainability and protection of forest ecosystems. The congress is one of three scientific workshops across Europe that will precede a meeting in Lisbon, and concludes with a fun field excursion to experience the beautiful Irish forests.

With increasing numbers of tourists being encouraged into Ireland, it is more important than ever that businesses step up to the challenge of operating at a level that is sustainable and has as little impact on the environment as possible. Whether you are a tourist looking to visit the country or a business hoping to benefit from a rise in tourism, Eco Tourism Ireland can help you to protect the environment in which you live, ensuring that it can be enjoyed for generations to come.

Laura  Chapman – Freelance Travel Writer