Niall Gibbons, CEO, Tourism Ireland (3rd left), pictured at the Shannon Chamber lunch in Dromoland Castle Hotel with (from left): Tony Brazil, Limerick Travel; Michael Vaughan, Vaughan Lodge, Lahinch; Mary Considine, president and Helen Downes, CEO, Shannon Chamber; Niall O’Callaghan, managing director, Shannon Heritage and; Dermot Kelly, president, Irish Hotels Federation. Photo: Eamon Ward.
Technology may have changed the way visitors preview and book their holidays to Ireland but it’s the simple things, like the friendliness and warmth of the Irish, that impress people once they visit the country. This was one of points made by Tourism Ireland CEO, Niall Gibbons, when he addressed Shannon Chamber members and guests at a business lunch in Dromoland Castle Hotel last week.
Speaking at the lunch, Mr Gibbons stated that tourism is the biggest employer in the county, with the 325,000 jobs it provides reaching into every town and village, generating €6.1bn in revenue from the 11.2 million visitors from abroad in 2018.
As we face the uncertainty of a disorderly Brexit and a slowdown in the global economy, Mr Gibbons stressed the importance of protecting this critical sector for Ireland.
“There are a lot of dynamics at play in the industry and major issues that could impact Ireland in a No Deal Brexit situation. Consumers have technology at their fingertips to search for better-value destinations, so we need to constantly reassure potential visitors that Ireland is still open for business.
“We operate in a highly competitive landscape so it’s important to keep telling the story, maintain relationships with the traditional travel trade and keep the region and Ireland to the forefront. Collaboration is the key to overcoming any potential crisis,” he stated.
Increased marketing effort from Tourism Ireland, through its new ‘Fill Your Heart’ marketing campaign, involving an investment of €12m in 2019, and a total revamp of the Ireland.com website in 2020, with an emphasis on personalised messaging, will serve to target repeat business and win market share in newer undeveloped markets.
Commenting on marketing activity undertaken to give the Mid-West a greater profile overseas, Mr Gibbons added: “Marketing effort to increase the numbers visiting the Mid-West and the Wild Atlantic Way have included visits by TV crews and travel writers. However, the greatest challenge facing the region is that 89% of all tourism comes via Dublin and as long as this happens, every region in Ireland will be looking for a piece of the business. It is important therefore to find a balanced portfolio of destinations for the Mid-West region. The region has products suited to mainland Europe; carriers with long-term interest in the region are now needed.”
Also addressing the lunch, Shannon Chamber president Mary Considine agreed air access is crucial to drive growth in our regional economies.
“Whilst the number of visitors to Ireland may be up this year, the regions are seeing a softening and we need to ask what more can be done to deliver an even spread of visitors to this island.
“Chambers across the Mid-West are now calling for the introduction of regional targets and increased funding for Tourism Ireland to support airline connectivity into the regions. This is essential if the Government is to attain its target of driving 75% of growth outside the capital by 2040.
“Tourism Ireland provides vital co-operative marketing supports to airlines to help establish new routes. However, the lack of a strong focus on, and appropriate funding for, regional access is hampering the development of critical routes for both tourism, foreign direct investment (FDI) and our indigenous exporting sector.
“We firmly believe that an improved mechanism to support airlines establishing new routes into the regions outside of Dublin is urgently needed. The regional focus adopted by the IDA strategy is already recognising the need for a regional approach to drive the national economy. Implementing regional targets for Tourism Ireland to support the marketing of new airline routes will also address Government’s ambition to drive regionality and seasonality.
“Implementing regional targets for Tourism Ireland’s Co-operative Marketing Support Scheme alongside an increase in the marketing funds available to support airlines in developing new routes in the region is therefore vital,” Ms Considine stated.