The Burren Ecotourism Network is celebrating its 10th anniversary, marking a decade of growth, achievements and awards which have seen it become a worldwide leader in sustainable tourism.
The network which now consists of nearly 70 tourism businesses has grown from 18 founding members when it was launched by Darina Allen and then Mayor of Clare, Councillor Christy Curtin at Gregans Castle Hotel on March 3, 2011.
Members range from operators like Burren Fine Wine & Foods and Marie McGauran’s Burren Walks to iconic tourist attractions such as the Cliffs of Moher. Businesses include those from hospitality, food, farming, activities, culture and heritage sectors, all committed to sustainable tourism in the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark.
A virtual event to celebrate the network’s journey and achievements with members past and present and associates will be held in March.
“The development of the Network involved a lot of time, thought and effort from the businesses and huge support from Clare County Council, Shannon Development, Fáilte Ireland and Clare Local Development Company. It was a very good example of ground up collaboration, but the real glue that keeps it together and makes the Network the success it is today is the deep love for the place and for its future that is shared by all members. Long may it thrive!’ commented Carol Gleeson, Manager of the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark
The Burren Ecotourism Network story began in 2008 when exploratory meetings were held by the Burren Connect project, with a variety of state organisations and Burren based tourism businesses to explore creating a unique ecotourism destination.
On long winter evenings, the group gathered at places like the Michael Cusack Centre and the Burren Centre to develop the structure and rules of operation, delineate the Burren catchment area and to establish the overall vision of the Network.
In 2009, Fáilte Ireland invited the group to become the ‘pilot’ for the promotion and expansion of ecotourism in Ireland. The aim was that the tourism business network could be used as a template for ecotourism development, with an accreditation that could be used nationally. The launch event in 2011 saw the 18 founder members presented with certificates by Mary Mulvey of Ecotourism Ireland.
The Burren Connect project became the Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark in 2011 achieving UNESCO status in 2015.
During the 10 years that followed the network continued to develop, with new members joining and innovative initiatives in food and sustainability. This has contributed to the tourism group being widely regarded as ‘best in class’, with regular invitations to share the Burren story at sustainability events and third level institutions.
Jarlath O’Dwyer, CEO of the Burren Ecotourism Network said: “The Burren has attracted global attention due to our having such a practical and holistic approach to sustainable destination management, especially now that ecotourism and sustainability have become such high priorities, worldwide.”
He said that one of the key factors in the success of the network was the Geopark’s Code of Practice for Sustainable Tourism, which all member businesses must adhere to.
This unique code was developed with EU LIFE funding and promotes slow tourism, local engagement and greater responsibility for a sustainable future. As part of the code, each business is encouraged to measure environmental output and make reductions in these areas as well as promoting local produce, conservation and taking part in community outreach and advocacy initiatives. These include regular clean-ups including the ‘Adopt a Hedgerow’ programme, networking events, site visits to each other’s businesses and green purchasing. There is also a healthy social aspect to the network with regular bring and share parties and celebration events. Many members talk about the network ethos and strong support of fellow members as critical during the last year of the pandemic.
It was this community ethos, which contributed to the network scooping the Lonely Planet ‘Best in Travel’ tourism project in 2021 with the group described as “a global leader for sustainable tourism.”
The Lonely planet accolade is one of a host of awards the Burren Ecotourism Network and Burren Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark has received over the years. In 2014 the Geopark won ‘Best Destination for Responsible Tourism’ at the Irish Responsible Travel & Tourism Awards. In 2015, the Burren Food Trail received the ‘European Destination of Excellence (EDEN) award for Tourism and Gastronomy’, closely followed by winning ‘Foodie Towns of Ireland’, 2015. In 2016 the ‘National Geographic World Legacy Award for Destination Leadership’ was awarded to the Burren & Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark.
Food has been a key part of the success story, with the establishment of a ‘Burren Food Trail’ in 2013, as well as the annual ‘Burren Food Fayre’ and’ the ‘Burren Slow Food Festival’. These events have run every year and attract high profile chefs from Ireland and the UK. In 2018 the highly successful Burren Long Table events were launched with five Long Table events held since. In 2019 the Network collaborated with Chef Trevis L Gleason to publish the ‘Burren Dinners’ Cookbook’ which features the food, chefs and producers from the Burren area.
George Quinn, Chair of the Board of Directors the Burren Ecotourism Network acknowledged the support received by the network over the years.
“The maturity of our network has been the underpin of support for members during the pandemic and the members in turn have continued to contribute generously with their time and money, even in these most challenging times for our industry.
We would also like to acknowledge the vital funding for the Network over the years that has been received from Clare Local Development Company, Clare County Council, Fáilte Ireland and others.”