Week’s events (Part II): Boston and Irish tourism

28th September, 2014

As soon as the Fine Gael-Labour Government took office, tourism was identified as a potential engine of growth that could be developed to help our economy get back on its feet. A number of measures were put in place – the lower 9% VAT rate and the abolition of the air travel tax – to support the tourism and hospitality sectors so that Ireland could get on with the task of rebuilding our reputation as a value for money, must-see destination.

This policy agenda is clearly paying off, as tourism numbers grow steadily. Just this week, the CSO reported that for the first eight months of the year, overseas visitor numbers are up 9.4% on the same time last year. Even more significant is the fact that the number of US visitors to Ireland increased by a staggering 18% from June to August compare to 2013. The impact that this sector is having on our economic recovery is outlined by the fact that in 2013 alone the 1 million US visitors who came to Ireland spent $1 billion in the Irish economy. This demonstrates the importance of further developing Irish market share of the US tourism market, which is a central policy agenda of Government.

These most recent CSO figures were published during a two day trip I took to Boston to attend a number of events aimed at bolstering the Irish travel trade and ensuing our success to date is built upon.

The first of these was Tourism Ireland’s Jump into Ireland (JITI) sales and networking event for Irish hoteliers and tourism providers. Around 20 Irish industry reps travelled to Boston to tell 100 US travel operators and buyers about what makes their product so unique. The event was attended by about 200 people in total, with the most influential media and decision makers in the Boston travel trade there to witness the development of what are new, and hopefully lasting, connections between the Irish and American tourism industries.

After JITI, I carried out a number of media interviews with TV and radio broadcasters across the US. Some were focused on specific, niche tourism markets, like golf, while others, like The Daily Buzz TV Show, were broader in nature. The 68 million homes into which that particular show reaches provided an unparalleled opportunity to tell listeners and viewers about things like the Wild Atlantic Way, the beauty of which cannot be matched anywhere else in the world.

It was then onto lunch with the Irish American Partnership, which is made up of a group of people with Irish ancestry or simply a love of Ireland, who are working tirelessly to support educational initiatives back home. The scale of the work these people are doing is evidenced by the fact that since November 2013 they have sent $690,000 to Ireland, North and South, in the form of direct grants to schools and employment partnership funds. Their work and dedication to Ireland is never taken for granted by the Irish Government; this was my message to them when I met them.

Later that day I helped open the iFest festival; the first of its kind anywhere in the world. Initiated and brought to life by Rachel Kelly, who has an impressive vision of how to build the brand of Ireland overseas. It is a this three day festival of contemporary Irish culture, showcasing acts such as the brilliant Heathers, The Riptide Movement and writers like Belinda McKeown. Kevin Dundon and Darina Allen were there too to tell the Boston public about the culinary renaissance that is happening in Ireland. GAAGO.ie who are bringing our native games to more than 150 countries worldwide, and every continent apart from Antarctica, were also there demonstrating what their service is all about. I also had the pleasure of meeting Donal Ryan, whose book ‘The Spinning Heart’ is an absolute masterpiece.

Central to ensuring that Ireland never again experiences the difficulties we, as a nation, have had to endure in recent years is developing diversified economic engines of growth and activity. Ireland is respected around the globe for our hospitality, our culture, our natural beauty and our warmth. It is a Government priority to continue to support those in the tourism sector, who have done so much under exceptionally difficult circumstance, so that they can deliver a product that is second to none and keeps Ireland top of the travel list year round. It is my job to listen to what those people have to say and to make sure the policies are in place to enable future growth. This is something I am steadfastly committed to doing.