Each year Ireland promises a better year than the previous, and since 2009’s economic crisis, the destination has continuously delivered. Year 2013, we are told, will be no different, especially considering the dramatic campaign that has been undertaken for the coming year: The Gathering.
Travel Agent spoke with Joe Byrne, executive vice president, U.S. & Canada, Tourism Ireland, who filled us in on the goings on in the Emerald Isle this year. “[The Gathering] has been the most successful initiative that we’ve ever engaged in on a number of fronts,” Byrne says. “It has enabled us to say some new things about Ireland, in addition to what we’re known and loved for, we’re able to touch a hand to heart that 2013 is a fabulous year to go to Ireland because there will be more than 2,700 events that have already been pledged.”
These happenings cross a variety of fields, from culture, sports and food to music and heritage. Every county, city, town and village in Ireland will play host to a festival or other event, giving visitors more things to see and do and more reasons to engage with the Irish people. Throughout this year, the destination will welcome hundreds of thousands of friends and family around the world, calling them “home” to gatherings across the country. There will be clan get-togethers, festivals, special sporting games, and concerts to help commemorate what it means to be Irish in blood or spirit.
|The iconic Christ Church Bridge looms over Winetavern Road in Dublin.|
“It’s a tremendous program,” says Brian Stack, president of CIE Tours. “Ireland will benefit from the massive additional advertising for The Gathering, and it really gives people an extra reason to think about going to Ireland in 2013.”
It's a boon for agents as well, notes Nico Zenner, president of Brendan Vacations. “The Gathering provides agents with the opportunity, the tools and message to really upsell Ireland as a destination," he says. "Its people, culture, festivals, food and history are all being put front and center this year and we, for one, have elevated our itineraries and experiences to allow our agents’ clients to celebrate Ireland this year.”
“We’re also excited…because it has allowed us to speak to people of Irish heritage and to lovers of Ireland and to ask them what they are doing for The Gathering,” says Byrne. “No matter when your family came from Ireland to the United States, you can help in Ireland’s recovery by causing a gathering event to happen.”
Tourism Ireland is anticipating an additional 100,000 visitors from the United States this year.
Throughout 2013, South County Dublin will host “Meet to Compete”: 25 International sports tournaments across several sports, including basketball, baseball, cricket and soccer. Over 18,000 visitors are expected to attend the events that run through October.
More than 50 overseas choirs are expected to attend choral performances, with The Messiah Gathering in Dublin in April and the Cork Choral and May Choral gatherings in May. In June, the inaugural “Limerick Sings” will take place, and in August, the Kilkenny Arts Festival Choir will team up with choirs from Kilkenny’s twin cities. In October, the Jazz Gathering at the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival is expected to draw more than 1,000 music students from around the world.
Culinary enthusiasts are invited to compete in an oyster eating competition at the Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival in September. Other highlights include the All Ireland Fleadh in Londonderry in May and the Galway Arts Festival in July.
“What travelers will get this year from Ireland is an extra sense of belonging,” Stack says. “They will experience the feeling and the welcome of the people of Ireland, who are making a huge effort to welcome tourists this year. They will experience warmth, and specifically, they will experience a whole range of events that have been arranged for both tourists and natives that are traveling in Ireland in 2013.”
For a full list of what’s happening in the Emerald Isle this year, visit www.thegatheringireland.com.
Anticipation of The Gathering’s booming effect has spread to the airline industry, as well. Five airlines have increased their services to Ireland this summer. “We will have 27 percent more seats flying from the U.S. to Ireland than we had in the peak of 2012,” says Byrne. “I have no doubt whatsoever that if we didn’t have The Gathering, that the airlines would not have put on that much additional capacity.”
Aer Lingus will be increasing its capacity from Chicago and Boston, United Airlines will increase its service to Shannon, U.S. Airways will increase flights from Philadelphia to Shannon, American Airlines is introducing a brand-new service from JFK into Dublin, and Delta Air Lines have increased their service from JFK into Dublin from seven times per week to 10 times.
“The airlines needed something to give them courage to take this next step. The Gathering has convinced them,” says Byrne.
|In June the inaugural "Limerick Sings" will take place here—the county from which the event takes its name.|
All of this activity and excitement has provided a whole new opportunity for tour operators to capitalize on Ireland.
Sceptre Tours has introduced an Irish vacation experience specifically designed for friends and families to be a part of The Gathering. Groups can choose two-, three-, four- or five-day excursions based on their own interests. The trip includes round-trip airfare, private airport transfers, and six nights in villa accommodations at Adare Manor. Excursions include tours of Limerick, the Cliffs of Moher, Bunratty Castle, Cashel, Connemara, the Ring of Kerry, Dingle and more.
Brendan Vacations’ 2013 brochure highlights The Gathering, as well. On all of Brendan’s 2013 Ireland tours, guests will get an opportunity to experience the events. Each tour includes such an experience, from a personally invited lunch in a private home in Sligo with local expert on W.B. Yeats (on the “Castle and Manors Boutique Journey”), to a Bodhran (Irish drum) lesson for everyone in one of Ireland’s oldest pubs (part of the “Enchanting Emerald Isle” itinerary).
Trafalgar is also inviting travelers to join in the festivities with nine trips to Ireland this year. The nine-day Scenic Ireland was introduced in 2012 and focuses on the most picturesque parts of the country. The trip begins in Dublin, where guests will receive a morning tour with a local guide, then enjoy a day of free time to explore the city by themselves with a hop-on-hop-off sightseeing ticket. A visit to Blarney Castle is also included. At the Dingle Peninsula, passengers are treated to a special Be My Guest dinner on a beautiful family-owned farm, where they will dine with locals and try traditional Irish fare. Traveling on to Killaloe on Lough Derg, clients will finish their journey with a Guinness stew and soda-bread cooking demonstration, which they’ll get to enjoy afterwards.
The 12-day “Irish Experience” trip brings guests to Northern Ireland, where they will visit Londonderry and Belfast. The trip begins and ends in Dublin and also stops at Ballina, Galway, Killarney and Waterford. The itinerary includes experiences such as a visit to the new Titanic Belfast Visitor Centre, an evening cruise along Dublin’s Grand Canal and a visit to the Giant’s Causeway.
The 11-day “Best of Ireland” program begins and ends in Dublin and includes overnights in Sligo, Limerick, Killarney and Cork. Day stops include trips to Blarney, Kilkenny, Galway and the Cliffs of Moher.
CIE Tours has a dedicated site for Gathering activities. The operator will bring its Ireland-bound guests to events such as National Heritage Week, the Dublin Theatre Festival and parades and festivals paying homage to Ireland’s patron saint, St. Patrick. “We have really embraced The Gathering with our groups business,” says Stack. “We have several groups that are going to Ireland this year specifically because of The Gathering.”
Globus has a variety of Ireland tour programs that can be timed to coincide with festivals and such throughout the country.
ExperiencePlus! Bicycle Tours is also getting in on the excitement. Its 2013 itineraries will allow travelers to take in The Gathering activities during, before and after a tour. The “West Coast Plus! County Mayo” is an 11-day/10-night pedal tour of idyllic villages and coastline that includes pubs, traditional music and stops in Connemara and the Aran Islands. Departures are on June 16, July 14 and August 12 and include high-performance aluminum road or hybrid bikes with compact gearing; 10-night accommodations; seven dinners with wine or beer; 10 breakfasts; island ferries; and a guided walk in Dun Aengus. An eight-day option is also available on the same departure dates.
|Galway will host its namesake Arts Festival in July.|
Meanwhile, art and music festivals will abound on the Emerald Isle as part of The Gathering Ireland 2013. The cycling company has selected events open to the public but not coinciding with the bike tour dates if people want to plan extra travel pre or post tour. These include:
* June 7 to 9, International Quilt Festival of Ireland 2013
*June 7 to 9, International Gordon Bennett Rally
*June 29 to 30, Westport Festival of Music and Performing Arts
*June 28 to July 7, West Cork Chamber Music Festival
*August 2 to 4, Spraoi (International Street Arts Festival)
For your clients who can’t get enough two-wheeling or simply prefer to get around on their own, “Ireland has excellent bike paths as well as walking trails,” says Carol Cornell of Covington Travel in Fort Wayne, IN.
“Dublin has public bikes that you pay about two euros for a day,” says Melissa Pugh of Jetset World Travel, a Virtuoso agency in Chicago. “There are different stations throughout the city you can pick up or drop off. It’s a great, easy, cheap way to get around on your own.”
Tourism Ireland as a body promotes the entire island of Ireland. While The Gathering is essentially an initiative for the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland continues to hold major draws for U.S. tourists. Last year, Northern Ireland hosted a series of events and festivals and unveiled brand-new tourist attractions.
In commemoration of the Titanic’s 100th birthday, a brand-new $160 million project was developed in Belfast, the birthplace of the Titanic. Titanic Belfast is one of the major tourist attractions in Northern Ireland. The 150,700-square-foot venue is home to nine galleries of interactive exhibition space, including a dark ride, underwater exploration theater, recreations of the ship’s decks and cabins and a conference and banqueting suite with capacity for up to 1,000 people. The building debuted on March 31, 2012.
|A picnic near Kilkenny Castle is the kind of gathering that’s always been popular in Ireland.|
“The Titanic Belfast, which is by far the best Titanic museum information resource anywhere, has been an extraordinary success,” says Byrne. “Several North American tour operators have increased offerings to Northern Ireland.”
Just down the road from Belfast is Giant’s Causeway, which unveiled a new visitors center last year. Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the world’s most intriguing natural phenomena. The site is composed of approximately 40,000 interlocking stone columns that are formed in almost perfect hexagonal shapes, the result of a volcanic eruption.
This year, the big story coming out of Northern Ireland is that Londonderry has been named the UK City of Culture. This is a yearlong series of events and cultural happenings that will take place, which will keep the success story for Northern Ireland going.
|The Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland is made up of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns.|
On the Hotel Front
You shouldn’t have much trouble finding accommodations for your Ireland-bound clients, thanks in large measure to the huge increase in capacity in hotels during the Celtic Tiger years. “The hotel sector has had something approaching an oversupply,” says Byrne. “The problems are sorting themselves out. Many of the hotels that had been struggling because of the building boom are working themselves out through the system. Many hotels have changed hands and now are on solid footing.”
There is a new luxury hotel is opening Dublin in April. The Marker at Grand Canal Square, and a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, has 167 guest rooms, 14 corner suites, four luxury suites, two luxury one-bedroom suites and the Marker Presidential Suite. Dining options include The Brasserie, which focuses on Irish, locally sourced produce; The Market Bar, which is a modern and casual restaurant; and the Rooftop Lounge, which affords views of the city. The hotel will also offer guests a spa and fitness center.
Existing hotels, meanwhile, are eager to participate in The Gathering. The Manor House Hotels of Ireland, for example, are offering opportunities for travelers to participate in the events.
On the first Wednesday and Thursday of each month, April through September, the Markree Castle Hotel in Sligo is hosting Yeats’ Nights. These two-day celebrations honor the life and work of W.B. Yeats. The event includes an evening of readings, stories and poetry, a Yeats bus tour, which will travel to some of Sligo’s landmarks that were important to Yeats, including a trip to the Lake Isle of Innisfree.
Solis Lough Eske Castle in Donegal is also getting in on the fun, and those who hail from the county are welcome to join in. If your clients have a top Donegal ancestral family name, they are entitled to 50 percent off the best available rate in a garden suite. The names include Gallagher, Doherty/Dougherty, O’Donnell/Donnell, McLaughlin, Laughlin, McGinley/McKinley, McFadden, Fadden, McGowan, Campbell, Boyle and Sweeney.
For a list of other hotel offerings during The Gathering visit www.ireland.com.
|Londonderry, Northern Ireland, has been named the UK City of Culture.|