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How can we boost tourism in our local area by focusing on our food offering?

Q: With the food experience you have gained during your ownership of Superquinn, could you give any advice on how we could develop a food tourism strategy for our area?

A: I am no expert in the tourism sector, however I have been reading with interest lately that food is an important part of Ireland’s tourism proposition.

A recent document that I was reading suggested that it is more about ‘Food in Tourism’, rather than food tourism. In other words the research seems to indicate that in the majority of cases food is not the number one reason for people to visit an area, but can influence the visitor’s experience having visited that area.

Food in tourism revolves a lot around the experience. It is great if the tourist can experience a local artisan cheese on the restaurant menu, however, the whole experience is brought to life if that same tourist can visit the farm where the cheese is made, and perhaps receive a talk from the producer at a tutored tasting session.

I now see many restaurants and cafés bringing their menu to life by linking the provenance of the food to the people in that community who produce it.

Think of going on your holidays in France and how you would feel visiting a local vineyard and talking with the wine maker while tasting some of their products. You would certainly say that the experience was fantastic.

Fáilte Ireland are the experts in this area and have a very good website which will help with your project. For any strategy to be successful the stakeholders in that area must take ownership of it and make it happen. My strong advice would be that you should not sit back waiting for any third party or agency to develop the strategy for you, but rather take advice from them, develop it yourself and set out a programme of activity over the next three to five years. You will then find it much easier to attract the attention of any funding which is available if the appropriate agencies see that there is enthusiasm and local commitment.

Q: I plan to open a small retail outlet and am busy raising funds at the moment. Can you update me on any grants etc. that I might qualify for?

A: The grant systems that currently operate focus on manufacturing businesses and unfortunately there are no grants available for retail outlets which is a real pity in your case.

There is some grant assistance from county councils to improve shop fronts and paint building exteriors, but this depends on the town and the schemes in place at the time, but it is worth checking out. There are other sources of funding. I am increasingly meeting businesses having success with traditional bank borrowing and many report that the approvals process has been speeded up greatly with local managers appearing to be able to get approval for smaller amounts at a much faster pace.

There are newer sources of funding, including Microfinance Ireland and if you apply for this loan through your Local Enterprise Office you qualify for a 1pc discount. If your concept is innovative, Crowd Funding may also be a source of funding through some of the many business startup Crowd Funding schemes. You might be interested in training and upskilling and many Local Enterprise Offices run retail development programmes focusing on the growth and development of the business and assist with marketing ideas and sales growth plans.

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