Maintaining a culture of collaboration will help rural tourism businesses recover after Covid-19, according to Dr. Therese Conway.

Dr. Conway, who is a lecturer in geography at the School of Geography, Archaeology and Irish Studies at NUI Galway and coordinator of the MA Rural Futures Planning and Innovation, explained:

“For decades, national and international rural tourism ventures have faced similar challenges including relying on temporary employment, distance from major services, and limited connectivity which creates environments within which it is difficult for tourism businesses to thrive.”

She is a former Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions 4 awardee. This research is part of the ENNET (Rural Tourism Networks) project supported by the Office of the Vice-President for Equality and Diversity at NUI Galway.

Continuing, she said:

“Covid-19 has further increased the challenge base for rural tourism providers including loss of promised financial supports in some cases and an inability to plan for the future, given the uncertainty of the near-term.

“New rural tourism ventures are struggling, most for reasons of initial financial outlay to get established and the need to have time in the market to build up a client base,” she added.

Despite evident challenges at this time, rural tourism providers continue to reflect on the exponential gains that maintaining active networks and networking creates for rural tourism success.

“Networks in tourism are not new and have been found to have benefits in both national and international tourism development. However, it is through the process of networking – communication – that the real and tangible gains accrue for network members.”

National and international studies, including that of the ENNET project at NUI Galway run by Dr. Conway, have found that, even in challenging times, strong social and human capital illustrated in local structured and facilitated tourism networks drives tourism success.

Networks such as the Burren Ecotourism Network and long-term branding networks such as ‘A Taste of West Cork’ are illustrative of the value in ongoing collaborative community engagement for rural tourism, she said.

A culture of collaboration in tourism allows for dynamic tourism success and creates space for innovation in rural areas, according to Dr. Conway.

This culture of collaboration, she said, has also allowed these providers to use the network supports to be active in their response to Covid-19 and adopt their products for these new markets and online consumers.

“Historically tourism networking which would have occurred in a face-to-face manner at local tourism events, is now taking place online,” said Dr. Conway.

“This allows for a continued conversation around the promotion of rural areas through the medium of tourism, especially in such challenging times.”

Covid-19 and the advent of online networking has allowed for some sole traders and small tourism enterprises to become more involved in tourism networks due to not having the financial outlay or loss of a day’s income associated with travel to meetings, she said.

“Consequently there is scope to examine the possibility of maintaining some virtual tourism events and networking opportunities post-Covid.”