|Guests enjoying the launch at 22 Main Street, Killybegs|
"The Donegal Good Food Taverns group consists of a number of bar owners who came together earlier this year to provide a high standard of locally sourced foods and great service to their customers.
There are now 10 in the group and their aim is to promote the concept of social dining in a bar atmosphere where the food is sourced as locally as possible, the price is affordable and the group of bars form a trail of Irish music either in their own bars or neighbouring bars in their area. The group are working with Failte Ireland, and with your local Tourism College in Killybegs and are active in identifying new niches and products all the time.
I see the Donegal Good Food Taverns initiative playing an important role for us in Donegal in that the initiative is getting a lot of attention thereby bringing attention to our county. It also gives us a dining experience we can proud to both direct our guests to and enjoy ourselves.
The initiative exemplifies how people can come together, work together and profit from working together and utilise the assets of County Donegal. Before I continue I hope you will all join with me now to congratulate them on their initiative.
As someone involved in the tourism industry myself with my holiday rental home in Dunkineely and as a blogger, twitter user, and as owner of WeLoveDonegal.com, a site I set up solely to promote Donegal and which has had nearly 300,000 people visiting it many of whom email me, I am very conscious of what tourists need and want.
But just out of interest I conducted an on line poll to pinpoint clearly the top priorities of prospective visitors. The result of that poll, especially the first I mention here which is something we can all do and doesn't cost a cent, shows that we can all here meet the needs of our prospective guests and visitors to Donegal.
FRIENDLY, HELPFUL SERVICE
This is so simple to do and we can all do it. Treat your customers as you would like to be treated. Make things as good as possible to enable them to enjoy a visit to your premises. Go the extra mile at all times. A lot comes down to training staff, something I will speak about further on here.
The other important priorities of tourist according to my poll were:
VALUE FOR MONEY
This was probably always an important priority but now it is even more so. How do we in Donegal ensure we offer value for money? Well firstly we need to be aware of charges of services and providers to the tourist industry in other parts of Ireland and remain competitive. And secondly we can add something for free ~ offer the best service you can to each and every customers. Get Donegal the name for being not only good value but with the added attraction that the care and attention we give here is the very best, give us the edge over similar pricing elsewhere in Ireland by offering this free but oh so valuable extra.
BEING ABLE TO HEAR TRADITIONAL IRISH MUSIC DURING THEIR STAY
I was glad to see that this was up there in the priorities of prospective tourists, as I’m sure are the DGFT group. But it isn’t just about the music, it is the ambience of the pub where the musicians play, an image many have of Ireland ~ so meet that need whether in your own premises or by being aware where music is locally so that you can tell visitors about it. And for those hosting traditional music nights you are on to such a winner ~ all those inevitable photographs taken, most of which will end up on the internet somewhere and that is FREE promotion for your business.
FRESHLY PREPARED LOCALLY SOURCED FOODS
For me this is one of the major priorities and it seems from my poll that it is very high up in the priority list of others too. Nowadays more people than ever are into cooking and cookery programmes ~ think of the likes of Come Dine With Me and how successful that show is. As a result of that interest many now are unwilling to pay out good money for food out of a freezer or worse, a packet. Not only is the food going to be so much better when freshly prepared but it can be cheaper to prepare too.
Sourcing locally not only promotes Donegal but it lessens our carbon footprint, which whilst it may not be top of your list right now, is certainly something many are becoming much more aware of. Added to all that, we in Donegal have the best seafood and meats available which if we use to their full further promotes what Donegal has to offer.
This came in fifth in the needs of tourists. Bad signposting is a bugbear of mine and clearly of others who completed my poll. Yes, we all drive around knowing the roads and how to get from place to place but visitors to our county are dependent on maps ~ sat.nav. is not always the best here. Even living here I sometimes find it almost impossible to get to where I want to go following the signposting along our roads so imagine what it is like for a tourist? We need to drive around our roads seeing things through the eyes of a tourist and identify those places badly signposted and TELL the council. Enough voices reporting bad signage might just improve things.
Some suggestions I have to help us improve ourselves and the Donegal experience for our visitors.
1. TRAIN STAFF
The buck stops with you so it is an almost complete waste of time and money if you are breaking your back to serve the best food or offer the best accommodation you can if the much needed and valued customer is put off by a distinct lack of care or service when they are actually in your premises. Everyone needs to spend time enforcing their customer care standards to their staff.
2. MAKE THE MAXIMUM USE OF THE INTERNET FOR YOUR BUSINESS AND DONEGAL
Blog, use Twitter, use Facebook, use Flickr ~ anything to get the word out about Donegal and your business out but do it with care. Having just a website nowadays is not enough. There are millions of websites out there and the secret of good use of the internet is HOW to drive traffic to your site and how to utilise the many places out there where you can get attention. Join travel advice forums such as IGOGO and Trip Advisor to answer questions from people thinking of travelling to Ireland. The internet is the best way to promote your business and area. For instance, I have now had bookings for my holiday home both via Twitter and also through my blog and if I can do it, so can you.
3. ENGAGE WITH YOUR CUSTOMERS
This applies to all of us. For instance If as a holiday home owner, I receive an enquiry then I do my best to answer that email immediately. I know that on average an enquirer will email at least four other holiday homes at the one time and so I know if I respond quickly and in a friendly fashion, I am in with a chance of getting that booking. Think about it, all things being equal which accommodation provider would YOU chose? Someone who responds quickly to your enquiry or someone who takes a day or two (or even longer!) to get around to it? The interaction you have with prospective customers or guests is a great platform for you to sell yourself and the fact that you care.
4. PROMOTE DONEGAL AND WORK TOGETHER
Yes, of course we all want to promote our individual business but it is vital we at the same time do our utmost to promote Donegal to its full extent. Through the internet get the people out there to see and read about Donegal, entice them here. If we project across the net the stunning beauty and warm welcome of Donegal we all benefit. Remember, once the visitor is here, they may use any number of our businesses and then hopefully tell others and so encourage them too to come to come here.
5. KNOW YOUR AREA
Guests and visitors want to know about our area and the attractions there. We need to look at it through the visitors eyes, we know where things are but they might not. Tell them about places of interest, find out their interests so that you can hone your information to their requirements, gather leaflets which are freely available in your local tourist office to have in your premises, be aware of festivals and special happenings in your area and try to visit the attractions of your area so that you can speak first-hand about them and even blog or tweet about them. Promote, promote, promote.
6. FOR RESTAURANTS
As a holiday home owner I have a suggestion for restaurants and cafes. At the start of each season POST or HAND DELIVER your menus to local Bed and Breakfast houses and holiday home owners. This is the ONE instance where I would advocate not using email. You want the guests to see your menu in the format or layout you decided which in itself projects your business as you saw fit to show it. A printed email of the menu is just not good enough. You might also consider offering some sort of incentive for guests of the holiday home of Bed and Breakfast to visit your restaurant. Something small like a percentage discount for over a certain spend or alternatively a discount if they dine in your place more than once during their stay, or maybe even a bottle of house wine.
Finally, I would just like to thank The Donegal Good Food Taverns initiative which has lead the way and shown us how working together is the way forward. We must work together to market Donegal as THE place to visit in Ireland. We have possibly, and in my opinion definitely, the best and most scenic county in Ireland. So get out there and promote it. And be aware too that we can’t just concentrate on the American or foreign market. Yes, we want and welcome those tourists but we should bear in mind that marketing ourselves to the rest of Ireland is vitally important. If our fellow country men and women visit Donegal and like it, it is much easier for them to visit Donegal on more than one occasion during the year, something that the majority of foreign tourists will not be able to do.
So, following the excellent lead of the Donegal Good Food taverns initiative, let’s all join together, keep in touch, work hard to promote Donegal and get it the title it rightly deserves ~ the best county in Ireland!
23rd August 2011