For decades tourism has been a crucial element in the economic and social development in this country both nationally and regionally.
Like many other visitor destinations the Irish tourist industry suffered a severe blow during the global recession. However, the last few years have seen the industry vigorously bounce back with figures continue to grow exponentially year on year.
Undoubtedly The Gathering initiative 2013 was the ideal catalyst to stimulate the revival of the industry. But credit must be given to further government initiatives such as retaining the 9% Vat rate – which I strongly campaigned for – and the Wild Atlantic Way. These initiatives have greatly helped to build on the success of The Gathering to help further grow visitor’s figures by 8.9% in 2014.
New initiatives such as the Ancient East should also be commended as should The Tourism Policy Statement “People, Place and Policy – Growing Tourism to 2025.
Taking all this into account, however I believe even more can be done to further grow our tourism industry. We should make it our priority to capitalise on our recent success and aim to be a destination of first choice for a high quality, value for money and memorable visitor experience.
Global level tourism is changing and as such we must strive to stay ahead of the game over the next decade. Destinations are reinventing themselves, moving up market and offering memorable holiday experiences. Consumers are moving from having one long holiday to several short breaks, often city-based and sourced over the internet. There’s increased demand for breaks linked to health – meaning more demand for activity and spa breaks. There’s also far more demand for environmental, historical and cultural experiences within a unique and authentic experience. In fact according to recent research conducted in Scotland – for many visitors – especially from North America – authentic experience matters more than the destination.
As such, we must strive to increase the authentic cultural experience for our visitors. On a related heritage note, Stonehenge and the Pyramids are among the world’s top historical tourist attractions. Our very own Newgrange is older than both, yet does not have anywhere near the same global profile – this is something that needs to be addressed within a dedicated marketing strategy.
Meanwhile – lest we forget – our natural larder is one of Ireland’s distinctive assets providing a range of high quality products such as whisky, salmon, bread and cheeses which can all add to our visitor offer.
We should ensure however that Ireland’s eating experience matches our visitors’ expectations, whether its fine dining, family meals at visitor attractions or food on the go – we need to do much more to consistently reflect the quality and authenticity of our food and drink experience within tourism.
Moving on to the subject of sports tourism now – I’m aware Failte Ireland have an overarching strategy to attract sports enthusiasts from abroad. Events such as the Giro d’Italia and American Football games have proved very successful – but I think a separate national golf tourism strategy – similar to what they currently have in Scotland – would be a good idea to attract even higher figures from this lucrative golfing global market.
Scotland is currently marketing itself as the ‘home of golf’ and as I mentioned have launched a national golf tourism strategy. I think it’s fair to say with the unprecedented success of Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington among others – Scotland may be the home of golf – but here in Ireland – we have perfected it!
This strategy could work along the lines of a proposition drawing the full golf experience together under a single global brand aimed at capitalising on the existing and potential demand to play golf in Ireland.
Moreover we need to boost our marketing capabilities in adventure tourism – particularly in international markets -alongside further investments in product development, skills and training.
Marine Tourism is another area in which more could be done. Steps could be taken to help this sector grow through enhanced leadership and collaboration and a focus on product development and actively targeting the valuable European market.
I also believe we should review the burden of potential Government legislation with regards to the tourism Industry:
Reviewing legislative or regulatory burdens on Irish Tourism Businesses, would assist more entrepreneurial activity. Consultation with the industry on proposed Government legislation should ensure that tourism is fully taken into account, regardless of where in government it might have originated. Existing legislation needs to be reviewed
Finally, I believe we also need to increase our attractiveness to long haul visitors such as those from emerging markets such as India and especially China.
I noticed that a UK campaign by VisitBritain to promote tourism in China, has proved extremely successful. In China, it’s popular to give names to favourite celebrities, places and foods that describe what people think of them.
As part of VisitBritain’s ‘GREAT names for GREAT Britain’ campaign, which was carried out on social media last year, 101 of Britain’s most loved attractions, were bestowed with names in mandarin.
People in China were engaged to make their suggestions through a micro-site and on social media, with the aim of getting them to travel to Britain. For example the Highland Games have been renamed as ‘The Strong Man Skirt Party’ in Mandarin. These names have promoted engagement between the British and Chinese populations and as a result have encouraged more people in China to choose Britain as a holiday destination
I believe we could conceive of similar such creative and quirky ideas to promote Ireland – particularly in emerging markets like China.