9 Amazing Sustainable Initiatives We Learned About At Our First Regional Networking Event

Participant at Quest Killarney using 2GoCup

Quest Killarney joined the Killarney Coffee Cup Project for its finish line refreshments.

The Sustainable Tourism Network’s first regional networking event took place in the Killarney Park Hotel on 1 May 2024. The event featured a panel discussion with Louise Byrne, sustainability manager with the Killarney Park Hotel and co-founder of the Killarney Coffee Cup Project; Oliver Kirwan, founder of Elite Events Management, an Irish company which runs Quest Killarney, the Ring of Beara cycle, Ride Dingle and more; and Caroline Boland, founder of Boland Marketing and sustainable tourism development consultant for the Dingle Peninsula Tourism Alliance. The event was a huge success with a great selection of local tourism businesses, organisations and stakeholders attending.

Missed out this time? Don’t worry! We’re planning more events like this across the country soon. Plus, mark your calendars for our annual Inspiring Sustainable Tourism conference on January 23, 2025. Register your interest here and we’ll send you more info in due course. In the meantime, read on to learn about the amazing sustainable tourism initiatives that have sprung up in Kerry below.

 

1. A Biodiversity Education Programme Is Coming For Killarney’s Tourism Workers

Killarney Park Hotel’s sustainability manager Louise Byrne told us about the Biodiversity Education Programme that is being developed for Killarney’s tourism employees. This programme will teach them all about how special Killarney National Park is, as well as the UNESCO Kerry Biosphere Reserve that surrounds it – from its plants and animals to the wealth of cultural jewels within. We’re talking about Ireland’s last native red deer herd, the largest area of yew woodland in Western Europe (the Reenadinna Woods), and the rare native Kerry cow herd. And then there’s cultural gems like Killarney House and Gardens and Ross Castle.

The programme is being designed as part of phase 2 of the Killarney Coffee Cup Project in conjunction with the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The course will ultimately be accredited by Munster Technological University.

Louise told us “The staff at Killarney Park Hotel will be the guinea pigs on the course. Then it will be rolled out to everyone else.

“We’re developing it because we realise that none of Killarney’s tourism would exist without the wonders of nature and culture that the town, and the region beyond, is blessed with. We’ve already created a programme for school goers to learn about Killarney National Park. Now it’s time for the adults.”

Killarney National Park, Co Kerry_master

The imposing Red Stag on Mangerton Mountain, Killarney, indigenous to the area gathers his hinds into his harem, during this years rutting season on the mountain. Photo: Valerie O’Sullivan

 

2. It’s Really Easy To Bring Re-useable Coffee Cups Into Your Business – Even If That Business Runs Mass-Participation Events

When Oliver Kirwan of Elite Events was planning the most recent Quest Killarney multi-sport adventure race (cycling, running/hiking, kayaking) in October 2023, he felt compelled to explore using reusable cups at the water and food stations where 2,500 athletes would pass through.

“We run lots of mass participation events, including Quest Killarney, Kenmare, Glendalough and Lough Derg; Ride Dingle; The Ring of Beara Cycle; L’Etape and more. We always do our best on the environmental front but having seen the amazing Killarney Coffee Cup project in action, I just had to look at reducing the use of disposable drinking cups, especially for the finish line in Killarney. I had thought we were doing pretty well because we were using compostable cups.

But before I could go for the reusable cups, I needed to make sure things would run smoothly for our race entrants and also that it wouldn’t cost our business too much. We always have to make sure our business model is economically sustainable too because we are employers and we bring lots of visitors to the area as well, so we support other businesses.”

And so began the experiment. Oliver ordered 2,500 2GoCups for the final station in Killarney Town. They cost €250 to hire, were delivered on time for use at the finish line. Then when the event was over, 2GoCup came and took them away to clean them and reuse them.

Oliver recounts that the experiment was a great success. “It was really easy. And lots of the race participants made positive comments about knowing the cups would be used again. And in fact, we even saved a small amount of money as 2,500 compostable cups would cost €300 including disposal.”

In a commitment to continuous improvement, Elite Events has since rolled out the reusable 2GoCups at selected aid stations in races like Ride Dingle and Quest Glendalough. The transition to fully using reusable cups will be gradual and constantly reviewed.

It turns out that, in this instance, it’s easy to be sustainable – and it will save you money too!

Participants in Quest Killarney using 2GoCups as part of the Killarney Coffee Cup Scheme.

Participants in Quest Killarney using 2GoCups as part of the Killarney Coffee Cup Scheme.

 

3. Talking To Your Community Is Key To Sustainable Tourism – And Your Business Interests

Good tourism businesses are embedded in their communities. But what does that really mean?

We learned about a great and tangible example of this when Caroline Boland, a consultant who works as a sustainable tourism development consultant for the DPTA, told us about her interactions with Elite Events and the community where she lives.

She explained, “The Ride Dingle cycle is an amazing event that brings 3,000 cyclists to the Dingle Peninsula at the end of April every year. It starts in Dingle and does a figure of eight across the peninsula. Every bed there and for miles around is full – so it’s a huge economic boost to the area in the shoulder season. But it can also pose a lot of challenges for local people because the roads are taken over by the event.”

So should local people just suck it up because they should feel lucky that these economic benefits are coming their way? Or is there a way that the needs of both parties – the community and the event organiser – could be met so that everyone was happy?

Caroline and Oliver were both in agreement that everyone should be happy, and Caroline reckoned that the best place to start was by having a chat. Or lots of chats. And so she organised for herself and Oliver to head out to meet the communities in the villages that were impacted by the road closures.

Those chats, and a little bit of imagination, led to solutions.

Oliver recounts, “From those chats, we found out that our race was having an impact on farmers getting their sheep to the Saturday mart and also that families felt a little trapped at home and unable to get their kids to their Saturday activities. The other thing we heard was that local people really did think the event was a great bonus for the locality. And that this was the first time that an event organiser had EVER communicated directly with them. So it was up to us then to try and come up with solutions so that we could keep locals feeling positive about the event and keep their frustrations to a minimum.”

The solutions turned out to be relatively simple. Elite Events simply moved the start time to half an hour earlier. They also did a flyer drop to all homes along the route with phone numbers where they could be contacted and route plans for how to reach various destinations.

The end result was a happy race organiser and a happy community.

Oliver states, “We realise that for our events to be sustainable in the long term – and by sustainable, here I mean keep running and running – we must have a happy community. It’s their home that we are borrowing for the day.”

Talking to your community is key to sustainable tourism.

Talking to your community is key to sustainable tourism. Photo: Dylan Gillis -Unsplash

 

4. A Toolkit for Event Organisers is on the Way

Caroline Boland told us about the Dingle Peninsula Festival & Events Charter which is currently in the late stages of development.

She states, “It’s really important for event organisers to think about the local community as they plan events, and to liaise with them. That may be through a local tourism organisation like the Dingle Peninsula Tourism Alliance to find out what groups are working locally and talk to them. And meet the members of the communities too.”

Caroline also told us that from her work with Elite Events, and two other key events, Dingle Peninsula Tourism Alliance will launch the Dingle Peninsula Festival & Events Charter which will provide a road map and toolkit for event organisers for the Dingle Peninsula. It will also support Kerry County Council and An Garda Síochánas protocols. The Dingle Peninsula Tourism Alliance plans to make that toolkit available to other tourism locations too.

A toolkit for planning events is on the horizon for the Dingle Peninsula.

A toolkit for planning events in conjunction with the community is on the horizon for the Dingle Peninsula. Photo: firmbee-Unsplash

5. Killarney Coffee Cup Project Has Saved One Million+ Cups From Landfill

Since the Killarney Coffee Cup Project was launched last summer, it has saved more than one million coffee cups going into landfill. The project has also proven that it is possible to change our world radically. Now we are just waiting for every town in Ireland to follow suit!

The Killarney Coffee Cup Project has saved more than 1 million coffee cups going into landfill.

The Killarney Coffee Cup Project has saved more than 1 million coffee cups going into landfill.

 

6. Limiting Visitor Numbers Can Be the Right Choice for the Community – and Your Business

Every year the Ring of Beara Cycle sells out in less than a day. Five thousand cycling enthusiasts snap up the entries. Oliver Kirwan reckons they could easily sell 15,000 tickets. Tempting and all as, they have chosen to cap entries at 5,000.

Oliver states, “We realise that to keep our business sustainable, we need to make sure that cyclists have a really great experience. We know that the area only has capacity for 5,000 cyclists. There isn’t enough accommodation to have more and if participants can’t find a bed, then it sours it for them. Furthermore, we believe that’s as many cyclists that the community can handle. We don’t want local people to feel overwhelmed either.

“A happy community leads to a happy visitor and for us that means that those cyclists will come back year after year. They’ll also tell their friends about what a great event it is and that the area is a super place to visit for cyclists.”

Happy cyclists at the Ring of Beara event.

Happy cyclists at the Ring of Beara event.

7. Building Legacy Projects into Your Sustainability Plans is a Great Way to Give Back to your Community And Form Connections

Another great way to connect with your community is to build legacy projects into your sustainability plans. This could mean donating to local charities or paying for trees to be planted. But the most impactful legacy projects, and the ones that usually lead to the best relationships, are the ones where there is a natural affinity between the parties.

Oliver from Elite Events gave us a few examples of legacy projects they have been involved in. “A portion of our race entries is set aside for charitable donations. For example, after Quest Glendalough, we gave money to Wicklow National Park because our race runs through the park so that’s only right. They used the money to buy bird monitoring equipment,” he states.

So this donation forges closer ties with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and it also shows participants of Quest Glendalough that Elite Events cares about Ireland’s biodiversity.

Another project Elite Events established is connected to their Ride Dingle event. This cycling event funded the School Cycle Safety Programme for kids in local school to get them up to speed on road safety and cycle best practices. For this initiative, the Ring of Beara Cycle works with Cycle Sense and Wheely Good Cycling Academy to deliver the four-week programme to schools in and around Kenmare and on the Beara Peninsula. This initiative is normally paid for by the schools themselves but is now free for all the children taking part thanks to the Ring of Beara Cycle Committee .

On the topic of legacy projects like this, Caroline adds, “To be leaders in the pursuit of sustainable, regenerative tourism, which connects visitors with our language, cultural heritage, inspirational landscape and traditional welcome the Dingle Peninsula Tourism Alliance will assist our members on their road to sustainability and promote the well-being of our local communities.

“Our projects are planned to preserve who we are, the people of Corca Dhuibhne, conserve and highlight our environment, our heritage, our culture and our communities to ensure the sustainability of our family run businesses for the generations of the future.”

Elite Events Management ran a cycling training progamme for school children on the Dingle Peninsula as a way to give back.

Elite Events Management ran a cycling training progamme for school children on the Dingle Peninsula as a way to give back.

 

8. Little Things Mean A Lot!

While we were in Killarney for our regional event, Louise Byrne told us that employees from the Killarney Park were out painting railings that day as part of their Tidy Towns participation. She said, “It’s a way for us to really engage our employees with the town. It builds connections and means people take real pride in Killarney.”

 

9. Killarney Is Working To Become An Autism Friendly Town

Did you know that embracing inclusion is also a part of sustainability? That means making tourism destinations and products accessible to people with neurodiversity and disabilities, diverse backgrounds and socio economic power, and more.

Killarney is making a great start on this element of sustainability by working towards the town becoming autism friendly.

The Killarney Autism Friendly Committee has the backing of over 30 businesses, public sector and charity organisations in the town, and will provide training for champion organisations, autism-friendly events and awareness campaigns to educate the public about autism acceptance and accessibility.

One of their first initiatives was the piloting of an autism-friendly section at the Killarney parades last Christmas.

The first training event for staff and volunteers working with autism-friendly champions took place in March took place on 5 March 2024.

The initiative is being led by a voluntary committee and supported by AsIAm, Ireland’s national autism charity.

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