‘Cultural tourism’ is relatively underdeveloped in Irish tourism policy. A strategy for the development of cultural tourism in Ireland was produced in 2006 by Failte Ireland, the National Tourism Development Authority, entitled Cultural Tourism: Making it Work for You. The strategy struggles to pin down a clear definition of cultural tourism. For instance a major absence is agricultural tourism. While it may be conceived as part of rural tourism, it is not given the strategic attention that it gets in other EU states. The strategy borrows a definition from an Australian strategy from 1994 that is extremely broad. This results in a strategy that mostly validates the cultural elements of the existing tourism strategy rather than define new opportunities for development. The strategy focuses on tourist visits to historical houses, gardens, monuments, museums, heritage centres, art galleries or gardens, festivals and events, and gastronomy. Cultural tourism is recognised as a key driver of the national tourism strategy. The strategy acknowledges the market potential of increasing cultural tourist visits.
The strategy recommends the following changes within the current model: product development — moving from a concentration of focus within silos (e.g. built heritage, natural heritage, performing arts, etc.) to a more holistic cross domain approach, and from ‘observation-based’ (‘look but don’t touch’) visitor experiences to something more embracing and participatory; product marketing — from a presentation of cultural tourism destinations that resembles ‘a supermarket with the products arranged in alphabetical order’ to something that is more compelling, distinctive, joined-up and consumer needs-focused. This strategy should be refreshed and updated. Failte Ireland also offers market research tools for providers to help target cultural tourists, but there is a need for product development that is focused on cultural sustainability.
In 2012, the Arts Council published the report Cultural Tourism: A How to Guide. The guide was aimed at arts organisations wanting to diversify their audience and attract the cultural tourist to participate in their cultural programme.
Culture Ireland plays an important role in promoting Irish culture internationally. The importance of this organisation in balancing the relationship between tourism and culture is not well understood in policy terms. This once autonomous semi-state agency was subsumed into the Department of Arts Heritage and Gaeltacht in 2012. The balance of culture and tourism was tested with an initiative of government called The Gathering. The initiative was successful in generating greater tourist numbers, but was criticised also for its projecting of a clichéd image of a folksy Ireland. There also is a need for a coordinated approach that acknowledges the need for cultural sustainability as well as economic growth.