Delegates, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the 6th annual conference of AVEA, the Association of Visitor Experiences and Attractions.
I was appointed Chair of AVEA at last year’s AGM in Wexford, and when the time came to start planning the 2023 Conference, I wanted nothing more than to bring it to my home county of Clare.
In designing the programme for the conference, we landed on the theme of ‘World Class Experiences – Local Authenticity.’ The theme, we felt, captured something very specific about visitor attractions: our visitors, when they come to us, want to experience something that is unique and special, but that gives them a genuine and authentic sense of place, of where they are.
This year, our membership has celebrated receiving some world class recognition, with the Museum of Literature Ireland winning a Europa Nostra European Heritage Award; the Guinness Storehouse winning the world’s Leading Tourist Attraction 2023, and the International Rugby Experience winning the Public Choice category at the RIAI Irish Architecture Awards. These wins, amongst many accolades earned by AVEA members, signal excellence on a par with the very best, and an outstanding visitor experience.
But being world class does not mean forgetting where we come from: quite the opposite. Indeed, what makes us unique are those markers of individuality – of design, of people, of place – that create unforgettable memories, and make us stand out.
So, when we considered the conference theme, we asked ourselves: what is the very best way to demonstrate how we can be world class while remaining true to our roots?
We looked at County Clare – at what is special and unique and extraordinary – and we have elevated that, for your enjoyment. We have dug deep into Clare’s tourism offering, and we are proud, over the last day, to have brought to you the opportunity to visit AVEA members en route to the conference – to have brought our delegates together with an opportunity to meet and network – and to deliver to you with pride our heritage, our culture, our story-telling, our music.
And today, many of you will have enjoyed a guided experience to the Cliffs of Moher and Caherconnell Stone Fort. So often I hear ‘I haven’t been to the Cliffs since my school tour!’ And yet at the Cliffs we welcome over a million visitors a year – all seeking that breathtaking, soul-warming, refreshing glimpse of our extraordinary geological heritage. Perhaps today you experienced that joy, that breath-taking moment, that put you in the shoes of our international visitors – and perhaps today you said: ‘yes. I feel it.'
We include across our membership of 120 businesses visitor attractions that are diverse – big, small, rural, urban, ‘hands on’ and ‘just look, don’t touch’ – the past, the present, the future. From the very big to the very small, businesses that are social enterprises, not for profit, for profit, under state or local authority management, high tech or low tech – and it is our diversity that is our great strength. It is a sector that benefits more from collaboration than from competition.
We may be diverse, but we have a commonality of purpose:
To create heart-stopping memory moments, that evoke an emotional response, and imprint themselves forever.
AVEA runs a number of member events throughout the year, and we are lucky enough to be able to have our meetings in the most beautiful and unusual of places. This year alone, we have had events in the OPW’s Castletown House, Trinity College, the HMS Caroline in Belfast, Nano Nagle Place in Cork, and Newbridge Silverware Museum of Style Icons. And here we are now, for our AGM, in Clare.
My greatest wish is that you engage openly and deeply with our conference programme and your fellow delegates, and that when you leave, you will be left with an indelible imprint of all that is unique and special about Clare’s tourism offering. Our geological landscape, our folklore, our music, our food provenance, our close collaboration, and our dedication to making this event last long in your memories.
The conference attendance has way exceeded our expectations, and we have many supporters to thank, including our primary sponsors Fáilte Ireland, Tourism Ireland, Tourism Northern Ireland, and Clare County Council. Our year-round Partners ATS Heritage, Aramark, Do Dublin, Go City, Retail Integration, Shamrock Gift Company, TU Dublin, and Timberplay. And our conference supporters MKF Property Services, Photo Experience, Teelings Whiskey Company, The Shed Distillery, Kilbeggan Distillery, and the National Leprechaun Museum.
I hope you enjoy your time with us – that you network with your tourism colleagues in a spirit of openness and collaboration, that you take learnings from our speakers, that you gather inspiration and new ideas for your business – but mostly that you depart with a strong sense of place, of purpose, of pride, for all that Clare has to offer you.
So, in opening this conference, I say to you:
‘Draw deeply from this experience. Meet new people. Make new friends. Create new networks. Breathe our air, and enjoy our offerings.’
But most of all, I say to you, ‘Welcome to Clare. I hope you never forget your time with us, and I hope this visit inspires and invigorates you. You are welcome back – any time.'