In her time as a flight attendant with Aer Lingus, Joan Crawford was already a high flying tourism advocate for her native Donegal.
“I’d be asking the passengers when we were arriving in Dublin where they were destined for and if they told me they were heading down to Cork or Kerry or Clare, I’d be saying to them ‘come to Donegal and see the real Ireland.’”
It’s a mission she’s made a career of - the Letterkenny woman holds the post of Client Services Manager with Failte Ireland - and one to which she brings full unbounded enthusiasm. Not to mention the tourists.
Her initial association with the latter group didn’t actually come in the skies and airports of the world. At age fifteen and as a student at the local Loreto Convent, Joan undertook summer work at the bed and breakfast establishment at Covehill run by the late Jo McGlinchey. “It was my first taste of tourism and I suppose give me some inkling into the needs in the sector. I was serving breakfasts, cleaning up, and even doing a bit of weeding in the garden. It was a good way of learning the social skills.”
Degree courses at the University of Ulster followed her stint at secondary school after which the Glencar native applied for, and was accepted, to become a member of the Aer Lingus cabin crew. It took her all over the world and for a year and a half, her winning personality and enthusiasm no doubt had some visitors at least re-arranging their schedules in the arrivals hall. Back down to earth again, she was employed at the front desk of the North-West tourism office in Letterkenny, once again bringing her in direct contact with visitors to the country. “It was a lovely introduction to the job - meeting people from all walks of life.”
Joan was appointed Business Development Manager before eventually taking up her current posting.
It’s a posting that brings her to all corners of the county and beyond as she seeks to promote Donegal as a destination of choice from a market, both domestically and internationally, that is rich in potential.
In a week when Rory McIlroy has been officially ranked as the world’s number one golfer, Joan considers that Donegal can tap into the global appeal for the game by drawing huge volumes of overseas golfers to the North-West. And with a variety of top quality courses to draw them to, it’s something Failte Ireland and other agencies are investing heavily in.
“We’d be looking to see an increase in the number of golfing tours in 2012 particularly on the back of the Irish Open when it’s staged in Portrush. Golf visitors spend three times as much as the average tourist which would obviously be of enormous benefit to the industry here. There’s no doubt Donegal has the best value to offer when it comes to golfing,” the local Failte Ireland representative “putts” it up to rival counties.
And it’s not just golf that will entice our visitors, Joan is eager to stress. Surfing, walking, music and culture and other product investments can stimulate the market and bring the benefits to the hard-pressed sector.
She also points to the quality available here where accomodation is concerned. “The great majority of our fifty-eight hotels are family run and offer extremely good value.” Add to that are the eighty-two bed and breakfast facilities which have always been homely alternatives to the discerning visitor.
Iconic attractions represent a key aspect of any Irish county in luring visitors and Donegal isn’t lacking in same. “We have to keep putting the message out there that when you visit Ireland you can visit the most northernly part of the country by coming to Malin Head.”
As part of the Great Atlantic Trail initiative which incorporates counties and facilities running the length of the Western seaboard - “something like Route 66”, Joan points to the famous American experience - the Malin Head attraction, in tandem with the spectacular Sliabh Liag and Glenveagh National Park, would be ideally positioned to take advantage of the investment in showcasing what Donegal has to offer.
A successful tourism industry, of course, requires the commitment of every stakeholder involved and to this end, Joan is loud in her praise of the likes of Donegal County Council and County Manager, Seamus Neely. “He is one of the first County Managers to put tourism to the forefront - the Council has been very pro-active in terms of maintaining contact with the Irish Diaspora and suppporting everything we do.”
The current priority focus to win more overseas visitors is being centred on the four source markets of the U.K., Germany, France and the United States with direct access and links with airports both here and in Britain key to attracting them in.
“The industry in Donegal is very much up for the challenge,” Failte Ireland’s Client Services Manager in the North-West declares.
And Joan Crawford equally so as she maps out the future for Donegal tourism and the trail that will lead holidaymakers, golfers, adventure seekers and those with an eye for the most stunning vistas to her home territory.
Still directing them here but these days primarily from base camp.