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Ireland On Tour

Published on Nov 5 2012 11:18 AM in Features

Ireland On Tour

With a successful summer behind us, and the much anticipated Gathering 2013 only around the corner, Gordon Hunt speaks with Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, about the plans for the last few months of 2012 ahead of the year to end all years.

2012 can be considered a relative success, so far. Tourism figures are gradually climbing – however not yet at levels which we could all describe as brilliant – and initiatives on the ground are far more noticeable now, it seems. If you look at the changes that have been secured in the last 12 months alone for the tourism industry in general, VAT has been reduced from 13 per cent to nine per cent, a visa waiver scheme has been brought in for a number of our developing tourism markets and an order has been passed to reduce the travel tax to zero, pending results from our national airlines – this has already been moved down from €10 to €3.

Reasons To Be Cheerful

With that, there is every reason for to be optimistic. “We have seen flights into Ireland up five per cent this year,” explains Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland. Niall is just back into Ireland following a major promotional push of The Gathering 2013 in the US, however despite all the travelling, he is straight back to work, full of enthusiasm. “The economic climate is difficult – but some of the markets are showing promising prospects. If you look at Australia, 17 air services come in from there, and Emirates and Etihad are doing well in India and China. The Visa scheme is really helping there. We have additional routes from North America and Aer Lingus is maintaining a number of winter routes that used to close over the holidays, like Stockholm. That is very promising.” Indeed, in terms of air access, Ireland is in good shape. United Airlines has just announced a new line from Chicago into Shannon, which will do wonders for US tourism to the west of Ireland.

The Autumn Leaves…

The summer is obviously a key time for tourism, with the bulk of our visitors coming through the warmer season, however, the October-December trade is not to be sniffed at – 30 per cent of all our tourism comes during this time. Tourism Ireland, along with their domestic partners, take this spell very seriously. “We’re spending €19 million on the autumn campaign that runs from October to December,” says Niall. “Obviously summer is the big one, but this is us promoting what is still to come in Ireland.” And the crux of this year’s campaign has highlighted the many festivals and events taking place right around the island this autumn – from the Dublin Festival Season to the Belfast Festival at Queens (which this year celebrates the important milestone of its 50th anniversary), Wexford Festival Opera, Westport Food Festival, Cork Jazz Festival and the Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival. The campaign – which has been rolled out in Great Britain, the United States, Mainland Europe, Australia and emerging markets – will incorporate a major focus on city breaks as well as on attracting visitors to more rural parts of Ireland over the coming months. “So we have campaigns across all our markets,” says Niall, “looking at the festivals obviously and looking at our carriers – Ryanair and Aer Lingus would bring in 80 per cent of our visitors. To do this we map it all out at the start of the year to see which festivals we could use to attract people to Ireland. So you see the big branded ones, they would stand out. Also, there is a different clientele, we would target different tourists for the Wexford Opera festival or the Galway oyster festival than we would for Arthurs Day or the Cork Jazz for example.” So in Britain, for example, Tourism Ireland is running TV adverts on the likes of ITV and Channel 4 that will reach 19 million people. There are also radio adverts that will reach 2.7 million people – and Simon Bates broadcasted his radio show live from Dublin recently too. “We also have a website that is over 40 different sites in over 40 different languages, pushing the things to see and do. On the social media side of things, if you take Facebook, Twitter and our Chinese equivalent Ten Cent, we are have over one million followers now, which ranks us at third in the world. And we have the launch of a big new website at the end of November where we will be linking up all our social media.”

But, as we all know, Britain remains a problem. “In Britain,” explains Niall, “we have done a whole root and branch review of who we target and how we do it. But, we must point out that the level of British people travelling abroad is down at 2001 levels – that is what we are working with. And they stopped coming here for a few reasons, not just one. There was the global economic crisis, but there were also things like currency problems. A few years ago a Briton could get €1.60 for £1, then it was pretty much €1 for £1, and now it is back up towards €1.30 for £1. But, while we have seen markets like Britain fairly flat, other areas, like new developing markets, are doing good – we expect another record year in 2012. For example the Benelux region, with Germany included, is up around 10 per cent. Also, the US figures look flat but there has been an increase in holiday business, particularly the 5-Star hotels.”

Gather One, Gather All

And so to the Gathering 2013, one of the biggest marketing projects ever undertaken by Tourism Ireland. As the name implies, it is clearly all planned to bring in added tourists next year, with 325,000 visitors hoped to be attracted by a multitude of promotional activities. However, for a taste of what’s in store, we need only look back a few weeks to the American Football college match between the US Naval Academy and Notre Dame held at Dublin’s Aviva stadium. Calling the event an achievement is an understatement, as the whole thing went better than anyone could have hoped for. If you wanted a hotel room the week of the game you would have been out in Cavan, such was the demand.“That event went tremendously well. What was also great was the quality and calibre of tourists was outstanding. I know a particular tourist company who brought in 10,000 people for the game. We sold 36,000 match tickets in the US alone ahead of the game. It actually took three years to organise as these events incorporate large risks, financially. So there is a lot of work to get it in, but what helped was the Notre Dame alumni had Irish people on the board, so that helped things happen. But it was a great success.”

Last month the official US launch of the Gathering 2013 took place in the US, New York to be specific. And, given the example of the Aviva game, this is such a key area for us to exploit. Indeed, it was great to see hundreds turn up for the launch, with a very strong media trade contingent in attendance. “It went great. People were very excited, and very engaged. The image of Ireland abroad is really strong, we do a tracking study every year on our top 10 markets and, despite the global economic crisis, the image is still very strong.”

It is this image which we will all need to rely on as Niall and his team bump up their efforts throughout all of 2013 to attract the most possible people into the country. “The St Patrick’s Day parade has been upgraded significantly – there are now 8000 places for people to take part in the parade. There are a whole range of new events and activities, New Year's festivals, harvest festivals etc.” One person who Niall notes has really pulled his weight on all this is Minister for Tourism, Leo Varadkar. “Our relationship is excellent. He takes a keen interest in relation to what we do and he has put tourism at the forefront of economic policy if you look at the visa waiver scheme, the travel tax and the VAT reduction.” Also, Minister Varadkar has been out to Britain, Germany, France, the Middle East and, most recently, North America where his TV appearances were reaching millions.

Clearly Tourism Ireland are hard at it, feverishly planning for as good an end as possible to 2012, ahead of what could well be one of the great success stories of our industry. We look forward to seeing how the whole industry reaps the rewards.

 

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