|According to Melisidou et al (2013) clusters are considered as being efficient management and marketing tools for tourist destinations and as a local strategy for combating regional disparities and social inequality. A common element of many cluster definitions is the emphasis on networking and collaboration between companies and institutions as ‘groups defined by relationship, rather than membership’ (European Commission, 2008:9).
South Kerry Development Partnership is a local area development company established to promote and support the development of sustainable, vibrant communities in the South Kerry area and region. Between 2008 and 2010, SKDP assisted in the establishment of enterprise clusters in 5 distinct rural areas within its area of responsibility. Each cluster had a vision for their region and rural communities that centred on economic development for social and cultural sustainability. Due to their location in a tourism intensive region, the development of tourism related experiences, activities and services were identified as potential opportunities that could be capitalised upon.
In 2013 SKDP engaged the services of Boland Marketing, a consultancy company offering services in strategic enterprise development and community / social enterprise development. Their role was to offer facilitation to each cluster to self-evaluate, to identify private and public funding sources and to strategically plan a sustainable future by producing an action plan with agreed short and long term objectives. This facilitation was in the form of key actions including meetings, workshops, mentoring and networking events which focused on practical, results driven outcomes.
As a result of the process, a template of good practice emerged for cluster development in rural areas which addresses 3 key areas - cluster development (remit, structure, communication) cluster operation (project planning, team development, training, implementation and evaluation) and cluster sustainability (building capabilities and skills, resilience, resources and support).
The objective of this paper, which is the result of an academic / industry collaboration, is to present a template of good practice for the development of rural tourism clusters using the example from South Kerry as a basis for discussion.