Sligo on the Wild Atlantic Way Puts Eco-Health at the Heart of Tourism

Sligo Wins 9th European Destination of Excellence EDEN Award for Being a Wellbeing Region.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of health in all spheres of development and across the whole of society. It has amplified small countries’ pre-existing challenges, while new health systems and societal challenges have emerged. The magnitude of this is still unfolding, particularly among young people.

Prior to COVID Sligo, Ireland recognized tourism well-being, health, and ecotourism as key factors that positively impact its region holistically ranging from its tourism, population health, the health system, income, revenues, employment, social protection, the environment, culture, the quality of life in host communities, and economic growth.

Strandhill, Sligo went so far as to become a winner of the award of European Destination of Excellence as a Wellbeing Region 2019. The Northwest is known for its fresh air, rolling hills, unspoiled environments, beaches, mountains, and lakes is the perfect location for one of the fastest-growing sectors post covid. Adventure Sligo was also a strong runner-up. As a result, Sligo has positioned itself in the perfect position aligned with the ‘new tourist’ and ‘new normal’ striving for health, safety, authenticity, local living, and sustainable tourism.

The world has changed and tourism is changing with it. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst regarding shifts in existing trends in domestic and sustainable tourism. Tourists have changed in that they are increasingly aware of, and concerned about, sustainability. They seek possibilities that place sustainability, health, safety, authenticity, and local hood at the heart of their travel experiences. This new understanding of tourism is likely to continue for a long time to come. I trust that the path we have started paving toward healthy and sustainable tourism will result in stronger cooperation and coordination at all levels. Our aim has stayed the same: to ensure that health is high on the tourism agenda and to improve community health, the environment, and economies. (WHO Regional Office for Europe)

Approach Failte Ireland (Ireland’s national tourism development authority) launched the 9th European Destination of Excellence EDEN to find and investigate Irish destinations offering sustainable and well-developed ‘health and wellbeing’, tourist experiences in their regions as a potential to grow visitor numbers.

Regions and businesses included those along the Wild Atlantic Way, Irelands Ancient East, Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands, and Dublin that offer a variety of health and well-being tourism activities, including yoga and meditation, sport and fitness, and nutritional programs provided by various services and facilities from spa resorts to activity providers.

Outcome Failte Ireland identified highly valuable wellbeing tourism regions with different offerings to further develop and add to the Irish wellbeing portfolio. Two of the well-being regions are in County Sligo (one focusing on adventure and the other lifestyle well-being), Meath (adventure festival and event), and Leitrim (slow adventure).

Eligible destinations were those where the visitor density is low; where the tourism product has been developed using local and regional health and well-being tourism while protecting the environment and meeting the needs of visitors and residents; and where the tourism offer is managed in such a way as to ensure its social, cultural and environmental sustainability.

Fiona Monaghan, Fáilte Ireland’s Head of Activities, said: 

“Visitors are increasingly looking to connect with destinations and communities which offer authentic experiences through nature and local traditions and communities across Ireland are participating in many ways to harness these assets through tourism to deliver impactful social and economic benefits for their local areas. This year’s theme of health and wellbeing tourism experiences will give those destinations offering an authentic health and well-being offering linked with their local culture and natural assets a chance to gain recognition for their experiences on the European stage and we encourage those eligible to apply.”  

The EDEN initiative aims not only to bring greater visibility to lesser known but excellent tourist destinations, but also to help professionals and interesting localities to maximize their potential and develop tourism services in line with sustainable development principles.

Eligible destinations were those:   

  1. That is “small” or “emerging”, “off the beaten track” and “nontraditional” (the visitor numbers rating from low to very low in comparison with the national average). The national average is estimated to be 16,000 overnights by overseas visitors per annum.
  2. The specific offer should have been implemented at least since 2017.
  3. That offers authentic tourism experiences.
  4. That is represented by a Management Destination Organisation that has a capacity in sustainable tourism management.
  5. That has local authorities with a capacity in managing their own destination in a way to ensure social, cultural, and environmental sustainability.
  6. That shall have agencies, NGO’s or authorities in charge to protect and promote the natural and cultural heritage with a capacity in adopting sustainable tourism practices.
  7. Destinations that have a well-developed Health & Well-Being Tourism offering that is characteristic of the reg

The four Irish Health and Wellbeing Destination finalists were:  

  1. Adventure Sligo & Northwest Wellness (Sligo)
  2. Strandhill Community Development Association (Sligo) (overall winner)
  3. Slow Adventure Leitrim (Leitrim)
  4. Trim Tourism Network (Meath)

Fiona Monaghan, Fáilte Ireland’s Head of Activities, said:

“We are delighted to announce the four Irish finalists shortlisted in this year’s EDEN competition. Each of these applicants in Sligo, Leitrim, and Meath has demonstrated the best examples of how Health and Well-Being tourism has been used to benefit both tourists and local communities. These destinations offer a variety of health and well-being tourism activities, including yoga and meditation, sport and fitness, and nutritional programs.  

“The EDEN competition not only draws attention to emerging tourist destinations, but it also shines a light on businesses using sustainable practices to provide unique tourist experiences that extend the traditional tourist season – this aligns perfectly with what Fáilte Ireland is trying to achieve’. 

Spotlight on Adventure Sligo EDEN Entrant where 12 Wellbeing & Adventure SMEs Come Together

Description Adventure Sligo’s well-being experiences focus on adventure and its well-being benefits of such activities and engaging in nature and the outdoors. Sligo’s rural landscape is full of the natural beauty of Sligo, heritage, and megalithic sites older than the pyramids inspire you with a guided walk or Kayak with Northwest Adventure Tours, Seatrails, Sligo Kayak Tours, or Wild Wet Adventures. Visitors can choose Ireland’s Table Mountain Benbulben, Megalithic sites in Carrowkeel, the prehistoric Caves of Keash, the wilderness of the Ox Mountain, and much more. Carraig Climbing can bring you to new heights in stunning surroundings. Located on the Wild Atlantic Way Surf Coast, Sligo stunning beaches are perfect for surfing, bodyboarding, and Stand up Paddling with Harbour SUP N Sail, Sligo Bay SUP, Sligo Surf Experience, or Strandhill Surf Experience to choose from. World-renowned beaches from Mullaghmore, Strandhill, Easkey to Enniscrone.

Approach as soon as you enter the website page you are prompted to choose your well-being adventure and select from a number of well-being experiences that are unique due to the destination, they operate in. The 12 wellbeing SMEs then developed their adventure wellbeing experiences into very simple 2-day packages where they team up with local hotel accommodations, including food and other complementary wellbeing experiences for a reduced price to suit their market needs.

  1. Carraig Climbing; rock climbing, hiking tours, guided mountain walks, families/groups, educational experience, off-the-beaten-track, mountains, and rock
  2. Sligo Surf Experience; bodyboarding, surfing, professional surfer, Wild Atlantic Way, 2.5 hours guided experience, surfing equipment, facilities at Strandhill beach
  3. Strandhill Surf Experience; surf coach, summer surf camps, ocean safety, beach games, eco walks, surf lessons/groups/individuals, yoga to surf, and packages.
  4. Wellbeing Warrior; yoga, fun, and uplifting excursions, adventure, and mindful practices, adventure activities (hiking, SUP, surfing), and meditation
  5. Wild West Sailing; Wild Atlantic Way, half/full/multi-day voyages, Mullaghmore, Rosses Point, Lough Gill, Slieve League Cliffs, Tory Island, Broadhaven, Inisboffin, France, and Scotland, powerboat and navigation training.
  6. Sligo Kayak Tours; kayak tours of coastal estuaries, inland lakes, untouched nature, and world landmarks.
  7. Wild Wet Adventures; kayaking, canoeing, SUP, hillwalking, walking, bushcraft, archery, orienteering, trail runs, team building, water tuition, and guided walks.
  8. Harbour SUP n’Sail; Enniscrone, Quay Ballina, SUP tuition, hire, and adventure tours.
  9. North West Tour Adventures; guided biking, hiking, walks SUP, cycling, and freediving
  10. Horse Riding; scenic beach rides, 5 hours a day trail or 30 mins for children
  11. Angling; charter boats, catch fish, eco-tourism tour
  12. Seatrails; guided heritage walking tours

Hall (1992, 151) provides an analysis of health tourism within the context of adventure and sports tourism. Health tourism is compared to tourism based on its activities particularly.

Adventure Sligo Packages: 

  • Island View Riding Stables, 2 Day Package/Accommodation/5 hour horse riding
  • Sligo Surf Experience, 2 Day Package/Accommodation/two surf lessons
  • Wild Wet Adventures, 2 Day Package/Accommodation/evening meal, choice of activity
  • Wellbeing Warrior, 2 Day Package/Accommodation/yoga and wellbeing experiences
  • Sligo Bay SUP, 2 Day Package/SUP lesson
  • Adventure Tours Package, 2 Day/Accommodation/guided hiking and farmers market

Outline of Northwest Adventure Tours 2 Day Accommodation Package  

  • 2 Day Package/Accommodation (B&B) Riverside Hotel
  • Guided hiking break, climb three iconic Sligo Peaks (Benbulben, Ox Mountains, and Knocknarea)
  • A coastal trail to Strandhill Farmers Market in an airplane hanger set in the dunes followed by Paella lunch

Full details of all packages

Where The Grassroots Project Comes In

Countries are already looking at their existing natural and manmade well-being and tourism resources to engage in this key driver it is important young people become part of this fabric. Countries are already looking at their existing natural and manmade well-being and tourism resources to engage in this key driver it is important young people become part of this fabric..

The Grassroots Project aims to assist other European young entrepreneurs to take advantage and exploit this future megatrend. It will assist them and the wellness, health and tourism sector in how to maximize the opportunities by providing the tools and resources launching them into 2025.

The project will ensure youth audiences and eco health entrepreneurs maximize the potential of eco-health as a key decision driver for consumers. It will enable youth to realize the Eco health stage as a unique but sustainable competitive advantage and with win-win unique selling points. The Sligo case studies demonstrated how irish regions are already investigating their well-being sector and developing it as a potential project that fits perfectly in line with its supporting brand Wild Atlantic Way.

Bonus Material – Ecosystem Benefits of Green Space ​for Health (Eco-Health)

This Irish EPA report advances the perspective that accessible and well-designed green spaces are essential infrastructure that is fundamental to the health and well-being of thriving and inclusive communities. There is a scientific consensus that green space provides multiple benefits for enhancing health and well-being, and these benefits provided by green space are increasingly recognized in policy at international, national and local levels