Good practice destination The Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark (IE)

Contributor Tina Hedi Zakonjsek
Country Ireland,
  • Attraction protection
  • Destinations-in-Europe
  • Energy conservation
  • Europe
  • Public participation
  • Water Management
Release date 21/10/2014
  • Destination Management
  • Knowledge Networking, Training and Education
  • Natural Heritage & Biodiversity
GSTC Criteria for Destinations
  • D.5. Energy conservation
  • D.6. Water Management
  • C1 Protection of cultural assets
  • B3 Supporting local entrepreneurs and fair trade
Type Best Practice Destination (Best Practice Destination)
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1. WHO

Key people and organisations (initiator, leader, partners)

The Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark is located in the northern part of County Clare, on the West Coast of Ireland.  It is widely acknowledged as having a unique geological, archaeological, botanical and cultural heritage and identity.  It includes the extensive dramatic limestone karst landscape of The Burren as well as the iconic yet geologically distinct Cliffs of Moher, Ireland’s most visited natural attraction. The Geopark comprises an area of approximately 560 km2, with over 100 km of Atlantic coastline to the west.

 The Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark is responsible for the conservation and promotion of the area as a unique geological and sustainable tourism destination.  It grew out of The Burren Connect Project, which was established by Clare County Council in 2007 to seek a collaborative balance between conservation and tourism interests. It was then and continues to be co-funded by the Geological Survey of Ireland and Fáilte Ireland, the national tourism development authority. In July 2012, 2.2million EU LIFE funding was awarded to the Geopark together with several agency and university partners for a 5 year ‘Tourism for Conservation’ programme. This funding will be used to support the Geopark’s Sustainable Destination Strategy 2013-2017 and the programme is known as GeoparkLIFE.

In early 2013, the Steering Committee agreed to consolidate all operations and functions of The Burren Connect Project and the GeoparkLIFE programme under the name of the ‘Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark’.  The Geopark Manager is supported by a small project team comprising three people (Geologist, Sustainable Tourism Co-ordinator and Administrator), and reports to a Steering & Advisory Committee comprising representatives of all key stakeholders:  Clare County Council, Fáilte Ireland, Geological Survey of Ireland, National Parks & Wildlife Service, National Monuments Service, The Heritage Council, the Office of Public Works, Burrenbeo Trust (charitable conservation organisation), the Burren Ecotourism Network, the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre, Burren Farmers Association, National University of Ireland Galway, University College Dublin, Kilinaboy Community Group. 

Key Figures



Tourism arrivals

Tourism nights

560 km2

not relevant

1 mio

not calculated

2. WHY

Reason for taking the good practice action

 The Geopark contains one mass tourism visitor site, the Cliffs of Moher (874,000 visitors in 2012).  It is estimated that less than 3% of these visitors stayed a night in the region with most staying a mere number of hours before travelling on to other destinations in Ireland.  The region has traditionally had a low capacity to retain visitors for longer stays and so the desired economic and social impacts of tourism are not being realised, while the environmental impacts to the region are considerable.  


The stated objectives of the Geopark revolve around three priorities:

  1. Building Participation: We will strengthen the working partnership between local, national and international champions of conservation, tourism and community to ensure increasing benefits locally.
  2. Growing Sustainable Tourism: We will spearhead a vibrant model of sustainable tourism that develops and promotes the area as a truly special destination that strengthens the local economy and improves the visitor experience.
  3. Promoting Learning: We will promote the region as a destination that supports popular and specialist learning.

Our mission statement is:

The Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark supports people and organisations to work together to ensure a cared-for landscape, a better-understood heritage, more sustainable tourism, a vibrant community and strengthened livelihoods.

Issues and challenge

The Geopark region is an area that already attracts almost 1 million visitors per year, thanks in no small part to the presence of the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland’s most visited and iconic natural attraction, within its territory. From that perspective, it satisfies the focus of national tourism policy on delivering ‘many and more’ tourists to destinations. However, it does not satisfy some of the critical variables of building a sustainable destination. Many visitors to the Geopark are ‘day trippers’ or indeed only stop in the area for a small number of hours i.e. to see the Cliffs. The Geopark is geographically situated between two major Irish visitor destinations, Connemara and the Ring of Kerry, and for many visitors, it serves as a ‘stop-off’ en route from one to the other. While nearly 900,000 people visit the Cliffs of Moher in any given year, the next two most visited centres in the area (The Burren Centre Kilfenora and The Burren Smokehouse Lisdoonvarna) report average visitors of 30,000 each per year.  There are therefore a significant number of visitors to the Geopark whose economic and social impact is minimal but whose environmental impact may be considerable. The key challenge from a tourism and societal perspective is how to manage the visitor impacts caused by mass tourism, and how to leverage the region’s natural assets to attract visitors who stay longer in the area, for whom the landscape can be mediated and who gain a rich understanding of the cultural and natural heritage of the region. 

3. HOW

Methods /steps / tools used (to develop the good practice)

It is the Geopark’s policy to promote a sustainable form of tourism that reinforces conservation and also delivers the necessary economic impact to the wider community. Multi-stakeholder partnership is the defining feature of the GeoparkLIFE programme. It is the only destination on the island of Ireland where a comprehensive range of stakeholders actively engage with each other, formally at periodic meetings and field trips, and informally whilst engaging on the agreed workplan for the project i.e. tourism for conservation. All relevant national and public agencies engage with representatives of tourism enterprises, farming associations, communication organisations and conservationists. This forum allows direct dialogue and engagement and enhances mutual understanding of the opportunities and constraints associated with sustainable tourism development. The Geopark has demonstrated a solid understanding of this complexity of balancing the needs of the host environment, the host people and the visitor. It has succeeded in creating the space where those who represent the different themes can come together to find a positive way forward, within the framework of a clearly defined destination development plan.  


Geopark Actions include:

  • Promoting a sustainable tourism culture and mindset not only amongst tourism enterprises, but also amongst a partnership of suppliers, visitors, agencies and policy makers.  
  • Setting, monitoring and improving standards of sustainable tourism practice amongst enterprises and linking environmental good practice to economic gain.
  • Building real and tangible links between the large flagship attractions e.g. the Cliffs, Hotels and the smaller ecotourism providers e.g. walking guides, food producers. 
  • Promoting and improving sustainable transport and traffic management options within the Geopark. 
  • Improving wastewater management and maintenance amongst tourism enterprises is critical. 
  • Reducing water and energy consumption and waste generation by tourism enterprises and tourism-dependent businesses. 
  • Formalising benchmarking and performance monitoring criteria and using hard date to inform future planning.


Specific/measurable results, benefits

The Burren Ecotourism Network:

A key partner is the Burren Ecotourism Network (B.E.N.) as its members are central to sustainable tourism development within the Geopark. The B.E.N. was established by the Burren Connect Project and is resourced by the Geopark. The Geopark’s policy has been to build a strong and independent network of like-minded business.  Key achievements arising out of this policy are:

-          45 tourism enterprises have completed extensive ecotourism awareness and certification training between 2011 and early 2013.

-          Of these, 34 tourism enterprises implemented and improved environmental standards to a point that enabled them obtain independent, third-party certification.

-          A further 25 tourism enterprises are currently engaged in the third phase of training, highlighting the desirability of Network membership to the general tourism enterprise community.

-          The first B.E.N. members acted as a pilot group for the development of ecotourism standards in Ireland which led directly to the establishment of Ecotourism Ireland, the first responsible tourism standards for Ireland.

-          Strong relationships, based on friendship, trust and mutual business exchange has led to a tourism community with a strong sense of place based on a common ethos and identity.

Minimising the negative impact of tourism activities:

Based on learnings from first two enterprise training programmes, 2013 saw the introduction of a Burren-specific Code of Practice for Sustainable Tourism, which is supported by a tailored training programme. The Code includes 10 key areas of good practice that must be attained by all tourism enterprises wishing to become members of the B.E.N.. The training programme is highly practical, providing enterprises with the tools to establish baseline information and benchmark standards in the areas of energy, water, wastewater and waste management. In reaching the Code, the enterprise will have arrived at a perfect platform to progress to third party certification relevant to their business. The training programme also places emphasis on promoting sustainable transport options, green purchasing and responsible marketing. Importantly, the Geopark has developed a formal destination-level partnership with Leave No Trace Ireland, the first of its kind in Ireland, whereby awareness level training is being provided to every network member and every business seeking to join the Network – the objective of this is to ensure a common, core understanding of how to behave in the landscape, which in turn can be communicated to visitors in a consistent and competent way. 

On another level, the GeoparkLIFE programme is developing transferable templates for the conservation of habitats and monuments that attract visitors, focusing on quantifying, minimising and mitigating visitor impacts in a proactive and constructive way. 

Economic Impact:

A key success of the Geopark is the development of a destination brand concept and marketing plan that uses environmental and conservation good practice as the very essence of the marketing concept. Rather than being in conflict with environmental interests, ‘The Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark’ brand depends on environmental conservation and a sustainable ethos to find its competitive advantage in the marketplace. It has turned an international designation into a marketable brand, which leverages weighty natural and cultural heritage to create a modern, fun and inviting visitor proposition. Crucially, entitlement to use the brand, participate in destination marketing activities and to be included in promotional events comes only after a tourism enterprise has engaged in the B.E.N. and has reached the defined standards of environmental good practice. 

The Geopark leads a comprehensive marketing campaign for the destination which has included the production of a free visitor guide, a travel app, a visitor website, attendance at trade fairs and a media promotions campaign.  It focuses on building capacity and skills of businesses to leverage this overarching strategy, through training and networking and on achieving cost savings in businesses:

-          15 business-related training events in 2012-13.

-          18 environmental management training events in 2012-13

-          Over 30 new combination packages marketed in 2013.

-          Launch of The Burren Food Trail which achieved an integration of the food supply chain in the area. Achieved over 30 different media coverages and hosted 11 visiting international journalists. 

-          Production of the Free Visitor Guide for the region

Community Engagement:

Building trust and relationships with the community has been a hallmark of the Geopark’s work programme. Ongoing dialogue and consultation, public and private, is a feature of all projects. This was best evidenced at a Geopark Celebration Gala Evening held in April 2013, where the contributions and achievements of numerous groups publicly appreciated: 5 achievements in conservation, 6 learning establishments/projects and 5 community festivals and events.  The Geopark had been actively involved with each of these community-based organisations, supporting them either financially or through the allocation of personnel and resources.

The Geopark Geologist has a special community and advocacy remit which is exemplified in a comprehensive education programme:

Highlights include:

-          Collaboration with local secondary school on the Young Scientists project

-          Co-ordination of a new programme bringing together 2nd level transition year students and primary school children to jointly teach/learn about the landscape. 

-          A 6-week evening class for interested locals on the geology of the Burren. 

-          The compilation of a research and resources archive

-          The publication of Stone, Water, Ice, an interactive booklet and guide, with complementary teaching and visitor resources.

Communication with Visitors:

The Geopark hosts its own website which seeks to communicate the sustainability message and project progress to all stakeholders.  In addition, it supports the visitor website of the B.E.N.,  Together with social media activity attached to both websites, these are the primary platforms for visitor communication.  In addition, however, the Geopark invests considerably in building the capacity of businesses to interpret and communicate the region and the sustainability ethos to visitors.  Of particular note are two training programmes that are developed to enable basic interpretation for visitors (e.g. at hotel reception) as well as indepth interpretation such as might be provided by an activity guide.   The objective is to enable enterprises to willingly and competently promote the sustainability message and sustainable experiences and products. 

An excellent example of co-operation is in the development of a social media strategy for Networks that will enable the Network members to understand how to optimise social media for the entire group.  With the support of Failte Ireland, a tailored training programme was developed and delivered, which represented a significant departure from the agency’s approach of delivering standardised training focusing on the needs of the individual business. 

Recognitions (e.g. awards)


Finalist in the 2014 Tourism for Tomorrow Awards

Finalist in the 2013 World Responsible Tourism Awards


Lessons learned

 The key learnings from the project to date would be:

-          the importance of partnership and collaboration between all stakeholders,

-          the importance of engaging tourism enterprises in the project in a way which safeguards their autonomy,

-          allowing the time and space required for trust and personal relationships to develop, which in turn provide the context for collaborative progress,

-          establishing baseline and benchmarking criteria at as early a stage as possible.

Challenges met


Critical success factors


6. MORE 

web-references, documents