FÁILTE Ireland has rebranded the Midlands as 'Ireland's Hidden Heartlands' in a bid to boost tourism and match the success of the country's Wild Atlantic Way and Ancient East.
Speaking in Athlone on the Roscommon/Westmeath border at the launch of the rebrand this morning, Fáilte Ireland's CEO Paul Kelly said the initiative had "been developed after months of extensive market testing both here and overseas.
"The overwhelming feedback is that visitors from key markets want the opportunity to explore Ireland's natural gems and rural communities," he said.
"There is also a huge appetite out there for tourists to be active in nature through activities like walking, cycling, angling and boating routes - all of which the Midlands can offer in abundance."
Mr Kelly added that the Midlands had been a marketing "black hole" in recent years, with the region having failed to capitalise on the success of Ireland's other three tourist hubs - Dublin, Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland's Ancient East.
However, Fáilte Ireland are hoping that a focus on the River Shannon, the development of new food networks and trails and the creation of new walking hubs will help entice visitors to the country's more central counties.
“There will be some short-term cynicism as with any new brand... that will die down and we know in the long term that we have a core, a really compelling idea and that will win through,” Mr Kelly said.
The recruitment of a five-strong marketing team to help promote the new Hidden Heartlands brand will begin next week.
Meanwhile, the Irish Government will provide €2 million in funding to promote the region to tourists at home and abroad.
Minister for transport, tourism and sport Shane Ross said the rebranding “will significantly enhance the Midlands as a tourism experience and bring growth and jobs to the whole region.”