What's In Store for Tourism to Ireland

Travel Agent visited the Irish Consulate in New York where we sat down with Joe Byrne, executive vice president, United States & Canada of Tourism Ireland.

It's no secret that the Irish economy is still struggling in the wake of the global downturn and, with the closing of the Bank of Scotland Ireland, we wanted to get the scoop on what the landscape of Irish tourism will look like in the coming months. After meeting with Byrne, we are nothing but optimistic.

Byrne, a man with a passion for his country and his profession, told us that Tourism Ireland has two goals now when promoting Ireland. The first is to grow tourism (which shouldn't be a challenge seeing as 1 million Americans visit Ireland per year) and support Northern Ireland as part of the Irish experience.

"Despite the economy, people cannot forget the good news," Byrne tells us. "First, we have a great brand. Everyone wants to go to Ireland. Second, we have a great product." Byrne told us that he personally reads all letters of complaints from tourists who write into Tourism Ireland. "I have not received one piece of bad news in the last two years." Why? Because Americans love Ireland.

Of course, no amount of love for a destination can overcome the strong sense of consumer caution that has plagued U.S. travelers for the last year and a half. And still, the traveler is slow to come back. What's more, the economy climate in Ireland, which was once the height of Europe, has been brought to a standstill.

The BBC reported last week that The Bank of Scotland Ireland was to close, which was very bad news for the Irish Hotel Federation. The BBC reported that 150 hotels in the Irish Republic were under threat, seeing as the bank provides 20 percent of all loans to the hotel sector.

On top of this, Ireland was under the false impression that its economic surge in the late '90s would continue without end. It opened scores of new hotels and resorts. Today the consumer is overly cautious, limiting their travel and leaving these hotels with unfilled rooms. As a result hotels in Ireland across all levels of accommodation are offering deals, which is good news to the consumer but bad news to these property owners. Byrne tells us that what we can begin to see is that a lot of properties that opened in Ireland in the last few years will be changing hands, but on the bright side, they will remain open with the same level of service that guests are used to.

But Byrne tells us that the government has set up a national asset management agency to give these properties what they need. "Ireland has really stepped up to the mark," Byrne tells us, referring to the financial crisis and the tourism sector.

Byrne also commented that Tourism Ireland is in the process of working with the top air carriers to increase connectivity to the destination, including Aer Lingus, US Airways, Continental and American Airlines.

As far as Northern Ireland goes, Tourism Ireland is working on five signature projects to help promote the destination. The first is the Mourn Mountains; the second the Walled City of Derry, which was just named the UK City of Culture; Saint Patrick's Trail, including two cathedrals and his grave site; the Titanic shipyard; and Giant's Causeway.

"Even though we have challenges to face," says Byrne, "the good is continuing to come."

Stay tuned for a full story and profile on Joe Byrne in an upcoming issue of Travel Agent.


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