The Walled City of Derry
The Walled City of Derry is part of Tourism Ireland’s new emphasis on Northern Ireland, according to Josh Byrne.


Tourism Ireland’s Joseph Byrne is up to the challenges of his dream job.

The luckiest people do what they love, but Joseph Byrne’s cup of luck has runneth over. Travel Agent met with Byrne, executive vice president, U.S. & Canada at Tourism Ireland in New York, and he told us why he feels so lucky.

“The character and the characters of Ireland is our brand position,” says Byrne. “And the character of the place is everything from the beautiful scenery to accessibility and liveliness of the cities and towns.”

Byrne began his tourism career working for the Irish Tourist Board, making films and running a photographic library, which was a salute to his previous work with Irish Television. “I realized when I was in the company a very short while that I liked the whole idea of marketing tourism,” Byrne tells us. “There were two jobs I looked at and said, ‘I would love someday to have those jobs,’ and I am lucky enough that I have had both.”

The first of these was manager of Southern Europe, based in Paris, which happened early on in his career. “And then I got the opportunity to come here to New York, which was the second job I really wanted,” Byrne says.Joseph Byrne

However, even a job as idyllic as Byrne’s is not without its challenges. Among the biggest challenges at the moment is working in an environment where consumer confidence is low.  In addition, the Bank of Scotland Ireland closed last month, which was a huge blow for the hotel sector, as the institution provided 20 percent of all loans to hotels in Ireland.

On top of this, Ireland has been hit hard by the recession, unprepared that its economic surge in the late 1990s would come to such an abrupt end. The country saw scores of hotels and resorts open. Today’s consumer is overly cautious, limiting travel and leaving rooms unfilled. This results in deals that are good for the consumer but bad for property owners. Byrne says a lot of these properties will change hands.

The Irish government has set up a national asset management agency to help these properties, and Tourism Ireland remains optimistic. “Despite the economy, people cannot forget the good news,” Byrne says. “First, we have a great brand. Everyone wants to go to Ireland. Second, we have a great product.” While 1 million Americans visit Ireland annually, Byrne says he has not received “one piece of bad news in the last two years” from tourists who write into Tourism Ireland.

The company is also working to set Northern Ireland apart as its own destination for travel. Five signature projects are in the works: the first is the Mourn Mountains; the second, the Walled City of Derry, which was just named the UK City of Culture. The others are Saint Patrick’s Trail, including two cathedrals and his cemetery; the Titanic shipyard; and Giant’s Causeway.

“I’d like to think that I probably have one of the best jobs in the world,” says Byrne. “It’s working in a great city, promoting a wonderful product, which is Ireland, as a vacation destination. It’s a dream job.”  We should all be so lucky.