|Atlantic Ocean waves lap against the remote cliffs of County Kerry in southwestern Ireland.|
When we met with Joe Byrne, executive vice president, U.S. & Canada, of Tourism Ireland, at the end of 2010, Ireland’s economy was struggling in the wake of the global downturn. But in the face of the doom and gloom, Byrne remained optimistic about the product and brand that is Ireland and was ready to embrace a solid 2011. We are happy to report that Ireland is back on track and entering 2012 with exciting new offerings for your clients.
“We blew our targets out of the water for the overall year [in 2011],” Byrne tells Travel Agent. “If you look at the individual quarters, we did very well for the first two. During peak season we did extremely well. There was a falloff at the end of the year, but we attribute that to the uncertainty on the economic front of the American consumer.”
Byrne tells us that the final tally for travel to Europe for the last year will show an overall increase of 4 percent, with Ireland’s travel numbers up by 7 percent.
Looking to 2012
This year Tourism Ireland will be turning toward the North as it promotes travel to the country. A new campaign, titled “Northern Ireland 2012: Your Time, Our Place,” will focus on pulling travelers to the once-divided Northern Ireland (which remains part of the UK) to showcase the many highlights that can be found there.
|The remains of a centuriesold stone church in Glendalough, County Wicklow, on Ireland’s east coast.|
The campaign will officially kick off in April with the commemoration of Titanic in Belfast, where the luxury liner was built. This year marks the centennial of the sailing and sinking of the vessel, and in its memory Belfast will unveil a brand new $100 million visitor center, which will be the centerpiece of the entire program.
Two other programs will exist under the Northern Ireland 2012 banner. The first is the Giants Causeway, a natural phenomenon in the northern county of Antrim, where a new visitors and interpretive center will open.
Second, the Queen’s University Belfast Arts Festival will take place toward the end of the year, showcasing international artists. It is expected to become an arts program that will compete with the best in the world.
“The details [of Northern Ireland 2012] are being put together, but it will provide a lot of really great added reasons why people should visit,” says Byrne.
Of interest to your golfing clients: Northern Ireland is set to host the Irish Open in June, which will be played at Royal Portrush Golf Club. This is the first time in more than 50 years that this prestigious tournament will be played in Northern Ireland.
|A tour group prepares to visit Trinity College in Dublin, one of the city’s historic highlights. Nearby is the popular Grafton Street shopping district.|
A note on safety: For much of the modern travel age, Northern Ireland was not seen as a viable travel option due to volatile troubles between religious and political groups. Therefore, Tourism Ireland was created as part of the peace process in the country—as a way to promote both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland as an entire island destination.
“It is a job that has worked extremely well,” says Byrne. “There are more North American visitors to Northern Ireland than there ever have been in the past. Safety and security, which are paramount when visiting any destination, are becoming much less of an issue [in the minds of travelers], and this is a result of hard promotional work but especially a result of visitors who come to Northern Ireland and dispel fears.”
In the Republic of Ireland, football fans will congregate in Dublin in September when Notre Dame plays Navy Midshipmen in the great college football rivalry, which will bring over 15,000 visitors to Dublin for the game.
At press time, Ireland’s Taoiseach (prime minister) Enda Kenny was en route to New York to launch his country’s new consumer campaign: Jump Into Ireland. “It’s an exciting new communications campaign for consumers and for the travel trade and it is built around joyful immersion,” says Byrne. “In Ireland, you can literally jump into things that you can’t in other destinations.”
2012 will be an exciting year for travelers to Ireland with offerings from top tour operators. Brendan Vacations hosts both guided and customized trips to Ireland. Last year the company opened a brand new Dublin office on the posh Merrion Square. This year the company has hundreds of new four- and five-star Brendan Gold hotels, castles and manors; four new Locally Hosted Vacations in Ireland; and a new Guided Vacation in Ireland, featuring local historians and Dublin-based travel directors
|A young couple re-creates a classic scene from the movie “Titanic” at the Belfast Shipyards where the liner was built and where commemorative events will begin in April.|
An 11-day Sights and Sounds of Ireland tour, new for 2012, kicks off in Dublin with a welcome dinner and sightseeing, including St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Trinity College, which has a permanent display of the Book of Kells. Clients then head to Donegal to behold the Belleek Mountains followed by a tour down the western coast to see the Cliffs of Moher, the Ring of Kerry and W.B. Yeats’ grave at Drumcliff churchyard. Stops in Connemara, Killarney and Cork are also featured.
Clients who want a more independent experience can opt for Brendan’s new Locally Hosted Vacations. Guides will take your clients to visit Dublin's Christ Church Cathedral, Phoenix Park, Kilmainham Gaol and more. This eight-day trip also includes a locally hosted stay in Edinburgh.
Celtic Tours also has a host of exciting, new Ireland offerings for 2012. Its Embarking on Belfast-Self-Drive Vacation explores Belfast (Northern Ireland) and Dublin. The trip includes a two-night stay in Belfast with tickets to the new Titanic Visitor Experience, two nights open B&B vouchers to explore Northern Ireland, and two nights at the Clontarf Castle Hotel outside Dublin.
|The majestic Cliffs of Moher are a designated UNESCO Geopark.|
The Celtic Discovery-Deluxe Escorted Motorcoach Tour begins with a tour of Dublin and then heads out to Ireland’s west coast. Visitors will see the Cliffs of Moher, cruise the River Shannon and explore the archeological wonders of Dingle Peninsula.
Trafalgar has also come out with its new 2012 Europe & Britain Brochure, and with it a new Be My Guest experience in Ireland. On Trafalgar’s trips heading to Killarney, Ireland, clients have the chance to visit Muckross Traditional Farms. These are working farms that showcase the rural Irish life of the 1930s. Guests are able to take a trip through the old times, exploring the farmyard and watching a butter-making demonstration.
After the tour, guests visit the Quilles Farmhouse for a Be My Guest meal of traditional Irish cuisine (think Kerry Lamb Stew with boiled potatoes and fresh farm bread). The meal is topped off with Irish coffee, homemade bread-and-butter pudding and a special performance by traditional Irish musicians. The Be My Guest experience is available as part of four Trafalgar tours: the eight-day Irish Highlights; the 11-day Best of Ireland; the 12-day Irish Experience; and the 16-day Best of Ireland & Scotland.
This year, travelers can use CIE Tours International to explore Ireland at every price point. Some of the top-selling packages include the Irish Gold Program, an eight-day coach tour featuring deluxe and first class hotels in Dublin, Galway, Killarney and Waterford. The tour includes dinners, traditional shows, a Killarney Fjord catamaran cruise, visits to the Cliffs of Moher, Ring of Kerry, Clonmacnoise Monasitc Site and more.
Highlights of the eight-day Original Irish Pub & Folk Tour include dinner in the 12th century Brazen Head Pub; kissing the Blarney Stone; visits and tastings at the Guinness Storehouse; and sheepdog trials on the Ring of Kerry.
The eight-day Irish Heritage and Dromoland Castle Tour features hotels throughout Bunratty, Killarney, Waterford, Dun Laoghaire, Dublin and the Dromoland Castle Hotel.
At the moment there is very little to report in terms of hotel openings in Ireland. There was such an oversupply of hotels in the market during Ireland’s property boom that many of them have found themselves in difficulties and have responded by offering immense value.
“The job at the moment is trying to make sure the occupancy level of those hotels that are there are sufficient to put the hotel industry back into good health,” says Byrne. This means that properties in Ireland are offering savings like never before. The value on the entire island is a reflection of the supply and demand equation.
“For the travel industry and for customers, the value that is to be had has never been seen before and will never be seen again,” Byrne continues. “Add to that the strength of the dollar in recent weeks and what was already a good value has turned into a great one.”