Director of Sales & Marketing and co-owner Orla Kelly featured in the latest series with writer Martin O’Connor on Tipperary based executives & their views on business, work and living in Tipperary, which featured in the publication, The Nationalist.

Within minutes of meeting with Orla Kelly, her immense pride in her business and her colleagues becomes very evident. And her love for the county of Tipperary is palpable. Orla is the co-owner – along with her brother Shane Leahy – of Ireland Chauffeur Travel (ICT), based in Cashel. She is also Sales and Marketing Director of the organisation. In 2000 the company was started with one Mercedes car as Cashel Chauffeur Drive by Orla and Shane’s father, Kevin Leahy, to provide a luxury transport service in the South- East of Ireland.

“In 2003 my brother Shane had just completed a Masters in International Tourism and he saw an opening for a luxury destination touring service which included vehicle, accommodation and the arranging of activities such as golf and dining. Him and dad began to put plans in place with partners, suppliers etc. When I returned to Cashel in 2007 – and with those plans in place – we launched as Ireland Chauffeur Travel and started to grow our fleet and driver guides. The company now has a team of 25 people between office staff and drivers, as well as a growing fleet of 15 luxury vehicles ranging from luxury sedan cars, range rovers and custom bespoke mini coaches. This growth was a real family effort with dad working with us up until his death in 2017,” said Orla. Her dad, along with his wife and Orla and Shane’s mother, Beatrice, were also the original founders of Bailey ’s Hotel in Cashel and Orla looks back with huge fondness, and not a little pride, on this achievement of her parents. “I remember as a young child standing in the basement and staring up and literally seeing the sky through all the holes in the building. They grew that business from nothing”

“We originally ran the business from the attic in our parents’ house and we now have a team of 25 people between driver guides and the office team. All local people of whom we are fiercely proud for what they have achieved and the extra mile they go for every single visitor. Our depot was originally near Dublin Airport and during Covid, with business reduced, we took the opportunity to move the depot to Tipperary which has been a huge benefit to us and the area as we now hire Tipperary based also,” said Orla.

Her mention of Covid prompts the obvious question, what was the impact of the pandemic on your business?

“During Covid, like every other business and individual in the country, we found it very difficult, quite traumatic really as a business. All our staff have families but we got great support from the government via the wage subsidies. But it did also give us the opportunity, through the Tipperary Education and Training Board, to train and upskill in things like computer skills, marketing and management. We also had daily team video meetings for a virtual cup of coffee and chat…we are very much a family and it kept us together, it the opportunity to bring our depot home. We offered our clients the choice of either keeping their deposit on file with us or receiving a refund. Fifty percent of those who had booked chose to leave their deposit with us. But what was really rewarding – and proof of the powerful lure of Tipperary and Ireland to visitors – was that ninety percent of those clients immediately took up their travel plans once restrictions were lifted. Tipperary was on their agenda and they were going to come!! I’m prouder now of the business and my colleagues than pre Covid because everyone pulled together in one amazing team with a united vision of getting the business back up and running,” said Orla.

And how does she see the future for the tourism industry in Tipperary, after those tough years? Orla’s answer is immediate and unequivocal. “Tipperary will become a ‘must visit’ region for international tourists and for those from other parts of the island. I am certain of this. It’s an exciting time with the addition of luxury accommodation at the Cashel Palace Hotel, our geographic location putting us in easy travel distance to much of the country’s history and beauty, the surrounding amenities and activities such as stunning walks and cycle rides, and the continued growth of the Tipperary equine industry through initiatives such as Thoroughbred Country which promotes the stories and experiences of the thoroughbred industry in the county. Add to this the quality of produce and skills of those in the Tipperary Food Producers Network and Tipperary is a simply compelling destination for any tourist’s visit to Ireland. We love kicking off their Irish visits with a strong Tipperary experience – things that our international visitors just find so enjoyable. Like Guinness pouring sessions in Foley’s, a Tipperary food tasting in Mikey Ryan’s or making their own crafts in Rossa Pottery. We get the opportunity to showcase Tipperary and Tipperary people’s talents,” said Orla.

Orla’s view on the growing success of Tipperary as a tourist destination is also shared by others. According to the views of a panel of international tourism experts assembled by the illustrious international magazine, Forbes, and published at the end of 2021, Cashel is one of the “10 coolest places to go in the next ten years”. Alongside such exotic destinations as Costa Rica, The Galapagos, Grenada, Transylvania and Cambodia.

In any global industry partnerships and collaboration are key and this is something that Orla and other like-minded Tipperary tourism entities have grabbed by the horns and are giving huge investment to. On May 6 Orla, along with Helen King (Tipperary Food Producers Network), Karen Fleming (Cashel Palace Hotel) and Laura Magee (Thoroughbred Country) are embarking on a 10-day odyssey to the United States to promote ‘Bran d Tipperary’. They will be visiting Atlanta, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Maryland and New York showcasing the county as an ideal international tourist destination to tour operators and agencies. Orla says “The tourism offer in Tipperary, and indeed Ireland is unique. Ireland is known for its history and culture, its storytelling and music and its warm generous people. And what comes from our land in Tipperary is the best in the world. It’s our job to package that magic for visitors to the country” Our ambition is simple; and that is for this region to be every bit as successful as The Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East brands.

Orla’s career has seen her working and living in Paris, New York, Chamonix, Dublin and Birmingham but she says “I would never ever live anywhere else in the world than Tipperary. Why would I? Myself and my family have everything and more here. We are part of the most wonderful community. I love the fact that I can walk out of the office and meet so many people and have the loveliest chats just walking down the street. It’s a wonderful community spirit.”

She lives in Ballinahinch with her husband Paddy Kelly and her children Paddy Junior, Bea and Daniel. All of the children are heavily involved in the local community and avid young sportspersons involved in Rugby, GAA and horse-riding. “I can switch off the laptop, go directly home to my family in minutes, take the kids to their sports games and activities, or to meet their friends and generally enjoy everything that is on offer to us locally.” Given that her and her partners are setting off for the US in the coming days, I asked her about the recent visit of President Biden to Ireland, and any potential impact it might have on the US – Ireland tourism relationship. “I cannot overstate its importance; it has been a really massive boost for tourism in Ireland. Literally overnight we saw this massive surge in enquiries. The President’s trip to Ireland has sparked this surge in transatlantic bookings – we have had a 90% increase in enquiries since his visit. The American press had phenomenally positive coverage highlighting the tremendous welcome the Irish people gave to him. The clear, powerful message was that the Irish people are just so warm and welcoming I will always remember one particular thing he said at one point in his trip ‘Ireland is not just part of my history but part of my soul’. I thought that was just a beautiful expression. With 20-30 million Americans claiming Irish ancestry we endeavour to help in welcoming them all home,” said Orla.

And what about the future? “It’s just such an exciting time. I want our company to continue to make great partnerships not just in Ireland but overseas also. The Irish tourism brand has been very strong internationally over time, but it is growing all the time. With better and more travel links and a more connected world, people are afforded more opportunity to travel outside of their home countries. I see the possibility to expand our Tipperary company into new regions and countries.

We are already expanding across Europe, which is so exciting for us. Some of our past clients asked us to design trips for them in Europe. We’ve already arranged successful tours in Scotland, England, Portugal and Sicily and Shane is now concentrating on this area of business expansion, which will be based on the values we’ve developed as a Tipperary based family run business. And such growth means making sure we care for and continue to develop our current team who have been responsible for this success – as well as new recruits as we are always on the lookout for passionate travel advisors and travel guides! And we must all keep learning and cooperating. I was lucky enough to be accepted on a mentorship programme called “Going for Growth” which is sponsored by KPMG & Enterprise Ireland. My mentor, Louise Phelan, is incredible and continually providing me with new tools to continue our company’s progress and to be able to represent Tipperary and Ireland on the global stage as best we can. My mother worked until she was 80 and she has inspired me to work hard, to do the best I can for my business, family and community. She always said to me “find a career you love and you’ll never work a day in your life! Ireland Chauffeur travel is my dad ’s legacy. Myself and Shane have expanded it and its now our responsibility to carry this legacy on”.

Martin O’Connor, The Nationalist, Wednesday 3rd May, 2023