Donegal Noel talks
tourism and hospitality
FEW are better placed to
provide an overview on tourism and hospitality in
Donegal than Noel Cunningham. Possibly the only thing he
is more passionate about is our wonderful county. Here
Donegal Noel, as he is affectionately known by many,
talks about the challenges and opportunities the last
year has presented and what the future holds for one of
our most important business sectors.
Noel has enjoyed a lifelong career in hospitality,
starting as a youngster learning his trade in his native
Kilcar, travelling further afield in 5 star hotels and
luxury cruise ships around the globe, before returning
to his beloved homeland. For the past decade Noel worked
with Harvey’s Point on the shores of Lough Eske, he is
now ambassador for the renowned hotel and a lead figure
of tourism in the county. As well as a guru of the
industry, Noel is the current Donegal Person of the
Year, has a successful media career and recently penned
a book titled ‘Noel’s guide to modern Irish manners’.
He thinks for a moment before answering with assurance
when asked what is Donegal’s unique selling point.
‘’It’s our people, the quality of life you have whether
living or visiting here and in terms of setting we’ve
got it all from blue flag beaches to sea cliffs,
mountains and lakes.’’
Noel Cunningham is an ambassador for
Harvey’s Point on the shores of Lough Eske.
Ultimately it’s a
combination of those factors in Noel’s view that makes
Donegal a place that few can rival. Last summer saw a
huge influx of tourists from all corners of the island
rediscovering and connecting with Ireland’s most
northerly and beautiful county as staycations became a
more positive buzzword for 2020.
‘’I think I’m so passionate about Donegal because
previously I always felt we were a little short changed
nationally. I’ve made it my mission to alter myths of
Donegal as a remote place and highlight just how easy
and worthwhile it is to visit Donegal. The opportunities
Donegal presents from a business, social or educational
perspective or to make it your home are enormous,
continuing to grow even in the past 12 months.’‘
However the past year has also been a huge challenge for
business and hospitality in Donegal.
‘’There was a quietness and sadness around our towns and
communities where traditional hospitality work was
simply not available, the pandemic stopped us in our
tracks. But it also led to a resilience with many
providers looking at new ways of doing things, from
going online and offering delivery services to
establishing food trucks operating at a gourmet cuisine
level, which have all led to a positive tourism and
Noel adds that ‘’the greatest challenge is faced by
freestanding pubs and restaurants currently unable to
open if they don’t have external spaces. I urge people
to support these businesses when they are once again
operational, which we hope will be soon. They are in
many instances the heartbeat of our communities across
Donegal, providers of much more than just a meal or
Harvey’s Bar and Terrace have installed
moveable awnings so guests can comfortably enjoy outdoor
In Harvey’s Point like many
other bricks and mortar providers, they made physical
changes to adapt and enhance visitor experience.
Terraces have become more utilised and moveable awnings
have been installed so guests can comfortably enjoy
outdoor spaces, regardless of the weather. Noel believes
that the challenges of Covid will assist hospitality
businesses in the long term.
‘’Operators have dissected their current business model,
understood they needed to change, received supports and
now many are in a stronger position that pre-pandemic.
In the past couple of weeks as hotel, restaurant and bar
doors have reopened we see the buzz returning to our
towns and communities. Everyone is just thrilled and
appreciative to be back and I think many have a greater
appreciation for what they have and what they can offer
visitors, whether it’s a pub, restaurant or hotel’’.
Noel is extremely optimistic about the future of
hospitality and tourism in Donegal. ‘’We are on the cusp
of greatness. It’s hugely important that we harness the
positive new image of Ireland, the West and Donegal.
Staycationing is in vogue and is likely to remain so for
the foreseeable future. We in Donegal all have our part
to play in maintaining this by ensuring our quality of
service and offering is as good as it should be. This
coupled with our natural assets and the warmest welcome
in the world provides enormous opportunity for the
entire sector in Donegal and this makes me continue to