It appears that The Gathering has been a success. Figures released by the CSO show that the number of overseas tourists visiting Ireland in the first three quarters of 2013 is up from last year 1, 2, and 3. Preliminary estimates in the Final Report suggest that €170 million of extra revenue was also generated, exceeding expectations4.
So what’s the next plan of action for Irish tourism? In response to a Dáil question posed by Deputy Sandra McLellan on 17th December last Minister Leo Varadkar confirmed that “Tourism Ireland is currently finalising its three year Corporate Plan to cover the 2014 -2017 period and its Business Plan for 2014”5. After trawling through the internet the only strategies I could find were the Make Ireland Jump Out campaign which hopes to target new audiences in the US, the on-going Ireland Reaching Out genealogy programme, and Italian Strategy for Growth 2013-2015, a self-explanatory strategy regarding Italian tourists.
Recently, Kerry South TD Brendan Griffin suggested via Twitter that 2015 be designated the Year of the Home Gathering which he describes as “a huge push to encourage Irish people to holiday in Ireland”. I responded by suggesting an increased marketing drive to attract tourists from the economically-vibrant BRIC countries who apparently consider Ireland exotic. Ireland should be capitalising on the huge media coverage in China surrounding celebrity couple Zhao Ruo Hong and Zhao Yan who chose Ireland as their honeymoon destination in 2012. A year later there still isn’t a direct flight between Ireland and China although the DAA has recently offered a package to a number of Chinese airlines which are interested in opening a year-round service. My second suggestion to Deputy Griffin was to market Ireland to tourists from Scandinavian countries as their high cost of living would give them greater spending power.
But I have a third potential tourism strategy which couldn’t possibly be explained in Twitter’s 140 character limitation. I discussed Deputy Griffin’s proposal with friends and acquaintances and all were delighted to see such a strategy being proposed but not all, including myself, would buy into it for meteorological reasons. Ireland is a very scenic country with a rich culture and heritage. Unfortunately, Ireland is located on the wettest and windiest side of Europe and for many Irish people the need for Vitamin D overrides the patriotic duty to holiday at home. To compensate, I wear the green jersey abroad selling Ireland, more specifically Kerry, to locals and other tourists at holiday destinations who practice their English language skills on me.
I’ve noticed on my travels in recent years that Ireland’s reputation abroad has nose-dived most notably amongst Germans, Europe’s largest outbound tourist market. My observations were reflected in an article by The Irish Times earlier this year6. So I spend most of my ‘language classes’ abroad addressing misconceptions and defending the decent, honest people of Ireland. I then move on to the business of selling Kerry as a tourist destination. And here’s where the tourism agencies could help. Instead of drawing maps on the back of beer mats and napkins my sales pitch could be enhanced with the help of an official tourism brochure.
One of the key findings of the Final Report of The Gathering was that “The power of the ‘personal invitation’ from people in Ireland to friends, relatives and affinity groups abroad should continue to be harnessed and developed”. What I’m suggesting is that a type of ‘Tourism Ambassador Abroad’ voluntary programme be put in place for people in Ireland travelling abroad. Each volunteer would undergo an application and brief training process and be assigned a number. When disseminating information abroad the volunteer would write their volunteer number on the brochure. Should the potential tourist visit Ireland they could avail of discounts by applying for same through the official programme website quoting the number of their volunteer “Tourist Ambassador” who in turn could avail of discounts in their locality based on the number of tourists they “invited” to Ireland. Brochures disseminated abroad would have to be bilingual: translated into the language of the destination along with being in English. Brochures need not be elaborate or bulky. Whilst I would be interested in promoting Kerry other volunteers may wish to promote regions, provinces or Ireland in general. Perhaps niche market brochures could be produced for volunteers travelling to specific events. I would suggest getting Ryanair on board in some way. As Europe’s second largest airline their influence would be immense.
The ‘Tourism Ambassador Abroad’ idea may be whacky but if it has the potential to bring extra revenue into the country then it may be worth a try if only on a trial basis. I’ll be the first to volunteer, or be a guinea pig for a trial programme. Whilst a holiday in Ireland is not within my budget I still believe it’s a worthwhile destination with a lot to offer and will gladly shout that from the roof tops or, in my case, from the sun loungers of the Med!
© Hazel Joy 2013