Sandy Stapleton is a proud member of the Kilkenny Welcome Ambassadors Team
Who better than a local to help visitors to Kilkenny find the best ways to enjoy their holiday at home in Ireland?
Over the last few weeks a dedicated team of volunteers has been out and about in Kilkenny city centre doing just that - the friendly Welcome Team Ambassadors.
An initiative of Kilkenny County Council, the Welcome Team was set up to help visitors discover hidden gems, new attractions and give advice where to eat.
“I’m doing what I enjoy - meeting people and telling people about Kilkenny,” Stephen Kennedy, one of the ambassadors, said.
“It’s good we are making a positive contribution to peoples’ experiences.”
And the team is having a positive impact. They approach tourists to offer help and are ready to answer questions when approached.
The kind of visitor to Kilkenny is different, this year, Stephen has noticed.
“You only have to look along the Castle and up the Parade to notice the lack of busses,” he said. Instead couples and families are visiting independently, so they are making their own itineraries, and benefit from the information the Welcome Team can share.
“We’re meeting a lot of staycationers, domestic tourists, and they are asking what heritage sites are open, what restaurants are open, what time the Castle or Cathedral is open until,” Stephen gave an example of queries. “They want somewhere quirky to go, to take them off the beaten track. We are telling them where to explore.”
For example, he said, if a visitor asks about Rothe House he gives the tip not to miss the unique gardens at the back of the house.
He said people are really appreciative that the Welcome Team Ambassadors are there, even if it’s only to ask where the nearest ATM is.
Sandy Stapleton grew up in Thomastown, but admitted she only realised “how great Kilkenny is” when she left to go to college.
“It’s nice to come back and be a part of this group,” she said.
When Sandy was away and mentioned she was from Kilkenny people always shared their stories and what a great experience they had here. Now she is making sure people that come to Kilkenny have a great visit.
One of the questions she was asked by a visitor was ‘where is a good place to swim.’
“I didn’t expect that,” she said, but as a Kilkenny woman she was able to share the popular outdoors swimming spots on the Nore and Barrow. “Sometimes visitors want to know what the local people do.”
Sandy has also noticed that people are planning to come back to Kilkenny in the future, with many asking what pubs they should visit when they reopen.
One of the new resources the Welcome Ambassadors are able to share is a new audio guide to Kilkenny. Sandy said she has already seen families going around ‘with their phones up to their ears’ enjoying the tour at their own pace.
Kilkenny Welcome Ambassadors Liam Kelly and Stephen Kennedy out and about on High Street, meeting visitors to the city
With foreign tourists staying at home, this summer, John Britton found himself with the time, and skills, to volunteer for the Welcome Team. John runs Ormond Language Tours, and in a normal summer gives walking tours of the city in French and German. Being a Welcome Ambassador is a good thing to do, he said, “everyone has to pull together.”
John agreed that visitors love to hear about hidden gems. They don’t have to go far from the Castle to find quieter or lesser known spots, he said. He directs visitors to the gardens of Butler House, and the new Butler Gallery.
“Everyone I talked to would have gone abroad this summer, if they could. They are having a staycation and in that regard it’s fantastic that people are discovering Ireland. People didn’t realise how much is on our own doorstep.”
Trish Murphy and Murt Crotty are volunteers with the Kilkenny Welcome Ambassadors
Trish Murphy had some spare time and wanted to give back to the community. She said the Welcome Team was a lovely idea. From talking to visitors, Trish said the market on the Parade has been a huge hit, and many didn’t know the Butler Gallery had opened and were delighted to hear about it. Feedback from visitors has been super.
During August Trish noticed a lot of families visiting Kilkenny and they asked about things to do for families, like visiting Castlecomer Discovery Park.
She said there were a lot of questions from people who may have heard of a restaurant or cafe and they wanted to know if the locals thought it was good. The visitors liked that they could ask the locals on the Welcome Team for tips.
“We enjoy this and, from my experience, it’s been a success,” she said. “I think it’s worthwhile.”
Tourism Officer with Kilkenny County Council, Martina Comerford, said they are proud of all the volunteers.
“We are very grateful and proud of our volunteers who are providing an invaluable service to visitors and locals alike,” she said. “It’s important to note that our tourism partners here have really embraced this initiative and provided huge support to the volunteers. All attractions have opened their doors and allowed the volunteers to avail of tours for example, the Castle, The Medieval Mile Museum, The Cathedral and The Design & Craft Gallery. Our local hotels have invited in our team and extended a cup of tea of coffee for volunteers starting or finishing their shift.
“It is with us all working together and supporting each other during these challenging times that we will together weather the storm and come out the other side a resilient and still warm and welcoming tourism destination.”