A Bellaghy-based tour company has won the ‘Tailor Made Tour Company of the Year’ award in the recent Travel and Hospitality Awards (THA). THA is an independent global awarding body that rewards travel tour operators around the world. The selected organisations are judged on specific criteria, including reviews, media coverage and independent feedback. Fergal Kearney is the owner of micro company InSite Tours Ireland, which was awarded the prestigious accolade. He first created his business, which provides private luxury tours, in 2016 after years of working in the tourism industry. “We are passionate about promoting excellence in service and believe that InSite Tours Ireland is a perfect fit for our awards,” said Alice Smith, Awards Manager at THA 2024. “This small business has met and surpassed our criteria including providing memorability through unforgettable tours, the highest quality service and a high degree of flexibility in tour planning.” Fergal said he was delighted to see his company getting recognition. “I am thrilled to be recognised as one of the prestigious THA Europe 2024 winners, having gone through their meticulous process of review, ratings and feedback,” he said. “It is nice to get that kind of recognition because sometimes people do not place value very often in what I do. “People who live here don’t really appreciate the place they live in. So they kind of look at me and say ‘You do what?’ “I say that every time I am with clients here I am probably showing them more in one day than you have seen in a lifetime living here,” he laughed. Over the years, Fergal has appeared in the media and worked for TV programmes such as ‘Holiday with Jane McDonald’ on Channel Five. “It is nice to get external recognition and it is a nice acknowledgment, I am really pleased and humbled,” he said. Launched eight years ago, the company survived through covid regulations and last year saw Fergal organise 90 tours. “I started my company in September 2016. At the time, there was no one else doing it, but then I’ve always been kind of a pioneer anyway. I put together different programs and packages,” explained the Bellaghy man. “By 2018, I was doing ten tours a day within two years of opening.” After that, Fergal attempted to work with others but when it did not work out he decided to limit himself to three tours a week. Many of Fergal’s customers are often from America due to their generational links with Ireland. “My biggest customers would be from the United States, North America. So, people at the higher end of the market who are willing to pay extra for personalised, intimate, much more authentic tours. “It’s quite niche, I don’t know anybody else doing it [in the country]. “If you look at the population of the United States, 45% of the 340 million people who live there claim Irish ancestry. They have that kind of thing in their DNA. “They want to visit the home country. “People who live in America that have never lived here have the idea that you can walk across Ireland in one afternoon,” he laughed. Last year, Fergal was surprised when two of the couples he brought around the country decided to get engaged. “I had two engagements last year. Two young couples from America, one in March and one in June. “That was a very nice surprise. One was spontaneous. He says to me ‘I’m going to propose to my girlfriend, can you recommend somewhere nice?’” “I took them to one of the Ess-Na-Crub (Fall of the Hoof) Waterfall at Glenariff Glen in County Antrim. Obviously, I left him to it. He went down on one knee and proposed there at the waterfall and I know that because they came back and he was all covered in muck. “Then the other guy he had first arranged with me. “I took them down to Murlough Bay against the backdrop of the cliffs of Fairhead and the North Atlantic Ocean, Rathlin Island. “He dropped to one knee and he handed me the camera and I was able to capture the moment. “Their engagement was on Friday 5th May 2023 with their wedding in Kansas on 5th July 2023.”
Fergal spent most of his career working in the tourism industry in the North and he led on initiating and delivering major Northern Irish projects including Titanic Belfast and the Causeway Coastal Route. “So I’ve worked for the Tourism Northern Ireland board for 15 years. I kind of oversaw the biggest development of the industry here. It was an exciting time to be alive and involved in the sector. “I had a hand as well in the development of the visitor centre of the Giants Causeway. “All these things, basically, were brand new concepts at the time, which was really the foundation of which was making this part of Ireland even more attractive to the international visitors than the rest of Ireland, which obviously has already had tourism for decades,” he added.