Tourism Ireland’s Global Greening initiative is shining a (green) spotlight on Ireland in time for St. Patrick’s Day. Travel Agent is doing the same, by checking in with some Ireland experts.
Catherine Reilly has been involved in the Irish travel trade for more than three decades. As managing director, Ireland, for Brendan Vacations, she’s seen travel styles and interests change. But the Emerald Isle’s basic draw is eternal.
“It’s such a beautiful country with spectacular land and seascapes. It’s also diverse, which is another reason people love to visit. They can go from rolling hills to a lunar-like landscape. And it’s an ancient culture, with buildings that predate the pyramids,” Reilly tells Travel Agent.
It goes without saying that the famous Irish hospitality is another key selling point.
“Clients perceive Ireland as an easy trip. It’s English-speaking and incredibly hospitable,” Phyllis Stoller, founder of The Women’s Travel Group, tells Travel Agent.
The country’s ties to the U.S. also heighten its appeal. According the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 34 million Americans claim some Irish ancestry. That makes for lots of potential clients who can walk in their genealogical footsteps. Or explore them by bus, train or car.
In fact, modes of access are as varied as the country itself.
Monograms has a new "Ireland by Rail" package that is popular with those interested in independent travel.
“Most often in Ireland, you are dealing with rental cars and the hassle of driving yourself around. Our answer is to see it by rail. It’s one of our newest and most unique packages,” Steve Born, vice president of marketing for the Globus family of brands, tells Travel Agent.
At Brendan Vacations, tours come in four different travel styles: Guided Vacations, Locally Hosted, Private Chauffeur, and Self-Drive. Unique aspects include special “Be My Guest” excursions to Irish farmhouses or manor homes. One setting is on Lough Gill in County Sligo, where W. B. Yeats often visited.
“People come to the house, meet the owners and enjoy a lovely meal. They also hear Yeats poems while overlooking the scenery that inspired him. It’s mesmerizing,” said Reilly.
While most visitors come for classic destinations such as Dublin, Waterford and County Cork, additional sites are increasingly popular. They include the gourmet capital of Kinsale and the Wild Atlantic Way. The latter is a driving route on the west coast of Ireland offering 2,500 km of inlets, coves and rugged scenery.
“We dip in and out of the Wild Atlantic Way on several tours. There’s so much there that calls to the visitor. You can stop in at local restaurants, sample artisanal cheeses and smoked salmon. Or buy perfume made with the heather that grows there. It’s a work in progress but it’s the authentic rural Ireland that people have in their minds,” said Reilly.
Stoller’s clients are interested in the beauty and scenery of Ireland. But they’re curious about the (sometimes gritty) story of Ireland as well. A tour this summer takes in the poignant tales of emigration at the Cobb Heritage Center and the politics of whisky at the Old Jameson Distillery.
Stoller also offers a Northern Ireland extension because “it’s equally gorgeous and thinking women always want to hear the other side of the story,” said Stoller.
Ireland’s story continues to evolve.
“The first time I went there, there was one phone book for the entire country. It’s incredible to me what Ireland has become,” said Stoller.
The client base has expanded as well.
“Gardeners, equestrians, Maeve Binchy fans. You’d be amazed how wide the visitor pool can be,” said Reilly.
Film and TV settings are bringing visitors in as well. Brendan offers a popular self-drive "Home of Thrones" itinerary through Northern Ireland. It features the real Westeros caves, castles and forests used in the “Game of Thrones” TV series.
“More young people can afford to travel now, and they’re coming to Ireland. Tourist season kicks off during St. Patrick’s week. We can already see so many Americans here. It’s fantastic,” said Reilly.