Ireland: There’s Never Been a Better Time to Visit

Alison Metcalfe.

By Patricia Harty, Editor-in-Chief
December / January 2020


Tourism Ireland’s Executive Vice President, North America & Australia / NZ Alison Metcalfe, explains why Ireland is a unique travel destination, offering beautiful landscapes, a wealth of things to see and do, and a host of special events coming up in 2020.

What’s the outlook for tourism from the US to Ireland – you’ve enjoyed several years of double-digit growth. Total U.S. visitors to the island of Ireland have doubled in the last six years, to almost 2 million. Within this total, the U.S. market is now the number one source market for holiday visitors, as American travelers tend to spend more and stay longer than other markets. Such strong growth has helped the island of Ireland weather some of the uncertainty created by Brexit, which has impacted growth from Great Britain and some European markets. Looking ahead to 2020, while we expect choppier waters globally, with some macroeconomic conditions in key source markets that could impact travel, we remain cautiously optimistic that the U.S. market will remain steady.

Americans with Irish heritage will clearly be drawn
to Ireland, but what motivates visitors with no ancestral ties?

The top reasons American travelers without ancestral connections visit Ireland include its outstanding natural scenery and landscape; heritage and culture, which can be expressed through our ancient and unique history, literature, music, and art; as well as the warmth of welcome. Ireland is also being increasingly seen as a great destination for an active vacation, especially walking and cycling in an unspoilt environment. Visitors today are looking not only for unique experiences wherever they travel, but also immersive experiences that allow them to feel, touch, and learn about a new culture or specific interest, and Ireland is seen as offering a wealth of things to do and see. Screen tourism (TV and movies) is also a key motivator for some travelers, who would not ordinarily have had Ireland on their “bucket list.” Examples include HBO’s blockbuster series Game of Thrones, which has turned Northern Ireland into a hotspot for fans looking to visit Winterfell, Westeros, the Dark Hedges, and other locations in counties Antrim and Down, as well as Star Wars and its filming locations along the Wild Atlantic Way, including Skellig Michael in County Kerry; Malin Head, County Donegal; and Loop Head, County Clare.

Have you big plans for marketing in the U.S. in 2020?
Yes, of course! We will be launching the second phase of our new global communications campaign “Fill Your Heart With Ireland” on TV in key markets across the U.S., and across digital and social media channels from the end of December. Our overall marketing approach is underpinned by a set of sustainable marketing principles, which puts a renewed focus on encouraging more travelers to visit the regions of Northern Ireland, to ensure the economic benefits of tourism are spread around the island all year round.We will also continue to work closely with key Irish industry and U.S. market tour operators and airlines to drive sales, and continue our extensive outreach and collaborations with top-tier travel and lifestyle media, to share the rich Irish tourism story with culturally curious travelers.

There are more flights going to Ireland from the U.S. than ever before – does this make your job easier?
Absolutely. As an island, the importance of convenient and affordable non-stop air access is fundamental to growing tourism, and has been a key driver of much of our success. We know from our consumer research that when people are looking for travel inspiration and researching potential destinations to visit, a key consideration is ease of access. This is especially the case for U.S. travelers with limited vacation time. There are currently non-stop flights from 16 U.S. gateways to Ireland (Dublin and Shannon), including two new services that launched in 2019, notably Minneapolis-St. Paul to Dublin, operated by Aer Lingus, and Dallas to Dublin, operated by American Airlines.

What are the opportunities for holding meetings and conferences in Ireland?
Opportunities are extensive. For corporate meetings, Ireland is home to a large variety of unique venues, ranging from luxury castles, historic venues, distilleries, and other iconic attractions to suit meetings of all sizes. With Ireland’s excellent air connectivity at the heart of Europe, combined with sector strengths in areas such as global tech, science and aviation, and professional event and supplier services, Ireland offers an attractive package.
Ireland also continues to grow in popularity among conference and event organizers as a destination for hosting international conferences and conventions, and offers a range of options including two large state-of-the-art, purpose-built convention centers – the Convention Centre Dublin (CCD) located in Spender Dock and ICC, Belfast, formerly Belfast Waterfront.
The “Meet in Ireland” team, together with the seven convention bureaus located around the island of Ireland, can assist organizers with a wide range of services. These include help with venue and accommodation selection, sharing case studies from previous business events, business support, and making introductions to professional conference organizers (PCOs) and meeting planners. The unique combination of people, place, and proximity lends itself to the delivery of world-class business events.

Is golf tourism still a big draw in Ireland?
Yes. The number of golfers traveling to play in Ireland, mainly from North America, has remained steady at over 200,000, contributing in excess of 270 million EUR / $300 million to the Irish economy annually. Golf visitors typically spend almost three times more than the average tourist. The U.S. market is one of the most important markets for golf tourism on the island, and the North American market alone makes up 47% of the total number of golf tourists.
Tourism Ireland undertakes an extensive annual golf marketing program in the U.S. under the “Golf Ireland” brand, in partnership with Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Northern Ireland. Activity highlights include TV and digital campaign activity with NBC Golf Channel around the Majors, exhibiting industry suppliers at the annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, and assisting leading U.S. golf media to visit and cover Ireland’s world-class golfing experience.
In 2020 we will be looking to capitalize on the legacy of the very successful 148th Open, and the significant global media coverage that showcased the Irish links experience at Royal Portrush and beyond. We will also be promoting the 2020 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, which will be held at Mount Juliet Estate in County Kilkenny from May 28-31.
While the iconic links courses continue to be the main draw for U.S. golfers – Royal County Down, Old Head, Ballybunion, and Lahinch to name just a few – a key focus is to continue to showcase some of the hidden gems to U.S. golfers, such as those in the Northwest – Ballyliffin, Murvagh, and Rosapenna in County Donegal, Rosses Point and Enniscrone in County Sligo, and Ardglass in County Down. Ireland continues to punch above its weight in the golfing arena and also looks forward to the return of the Ryder Cup in 2026, when Adare Manor in County Limerick hosts the biennial contest between Europe and the US.

What’s new for 2020 – any special events happening?
Yes, here are three highlights:
In 2020, Galway becomes the European Capital of Culture, with a rich program of events running from February 2020 to January 2021. Throughout the program the themes of language, landscape, and immigration will be brought to life. For foodies, “Taste the Island,” a new island of Ireland festival, will run from September through November, showcasing the island’s world-class food and drink culture via authentic experiences and high-quality local ingredients. The three-month program will include everything from visits to food producers, distillers and brewers, food trails and festivals to opportunities to forage and fish, as well as the chance to just sit back and enjoy the best of modern Irish cuisine in unique and traditional locations. And for U.S. college football fans, Notre Dame will play Navy in Dublin on August 29, 2020 at Aviva Stadium as part of the Aer Lingus College Football Classic. A further game has also been announced between Nebraska and Illinois August 28, 2021.

Plan your 2020 vacation now at Ireland.com

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