Coastal regions are heavily reliant on tourism in order to achieve socio-economic sustainability. However, tourism impacts both positively and negatively on many coastal destinations. The world’s longest defined coastal route of 2600km, the Wild Atlantic Way (WAW), attracts tourists to the region of the West of Ireland after Fáilte Ireland began a promotional tourism drive in 2014. The association between WAW tourism and environmental impacts requires investigation.

The West of Ireland is home to a range of areas protected by the Birds and Habitats Directives which aim to safeguard against potentially damaging developments, meaning the anthropogenic effects from tourists must be carefully managed to ensure the sustainability of the region and continued success of this large-scale branding exercise.


The objective of this research is to utilise GIS to develop a classification system to assess the vulnerability of sites promoted with the WAW. The sample size incorporates 105 sites scattered across Mayo, Sligo and Galway encompassing 869.5km of the trail.


A survey was distributed to ten environmental and tourism organisations in the region to understand the relationship between the WAW and the environment. Organisations were limited to six respondents each in order to prevent potential bias results.

The matrix for assessing vulnerability was based on environmental impacts documented and the number of organisations concerned for each site.


This determined 43 sites were highly vulnerable, 55 sites were of medium vulnerability, 5 sites were of low vulnerability and 2 sites were of minimal vulnerability. As 67% (n=25) of survey respondents conclude there is little to no information available to tourists on the vulnerability of sites, the mapping of such important information is a productive expression of the raw data transformed into a comprehensible, user friendly map that can be quickly referred to upon arrival at each site.