by Bernard Purcell
• Don’t let sterling’s fall put you off Ireland, says tourism boss
• Rip-of Ireland is long gone and hasn’t been heard of since 2008
• Tourism boss pays special tribute to Irish in UK
Ireland’s tourism industry is going into post-Brexit special measures to prevent the continuing fall in sterling stopping UK visitors to the country. Sterling has already fallen 12-13 per cent against the euro with expectations the euro itself may rise from next month once EU businesses and financial institutions return from the summer break.
Despite this Ireland has been enjoying record visitor numbers – but this is because plans and arrangements had already been made. In the first six months of the year, almost 4.4m visitors visited Ireland, a rise of 500,000 on 2015.
UK visitors’ 41.6 pc of €7.5 billion
The biggest jump in visitors was from Britain. There was an increase of 16 per cent in the weeks and months before the Brexit vote on 23 June.
Visitors from the UK are the largest group of tourists to travel to Ireland, accounting for about 40 per cent of the market.
The head of Ireland’s tourism industry, Niall Gibbons, Chief Executive of Tourism Ireland, told the Irish World that – following meetings with all the major carriers – there will be “sensational” fares and bargains to be had in the coming months.
He said that following Ireland’s financial collapse in 2008, and the years following, the country had to learn to be swift to adapt to changing circumstances. He said that is already happening as Ireland’s carriers, hotels and restaurant and catering businesses brace themselves for Brexit fall-out.
Downturn in business
“We know it’s going to be a very good summer season because people have already booked their summer holidays. What we will be keeping a very close eye on is quarter four and quarter one of next year. That’s a time when people haven’t booked their breaks yet,” he said.
“There are some people who have seen a downturn in business since June 23 but that’s not the picture across the whole industry,” he said.
“We know sterling has had a 12 to 13 per cent fall but we’re heading into a quieter period and there is will still be very good value to be had,” he told the Irish World this week.
“I’ve been talking to all the main players, Aer Lingus, Ryanair, Irish Ferries, Stena, who represent 90 per cent of all capacity into Ireland and they have some fantastic fares scheduled in the coming weeks and months,” he promised.
“Irish tourism has got off to a flying start in 2016, this summer there are 550,000 airline seats each week coming onto the island of Ireland, and 48,000 from North America alone,” he said. “But the UK market is and always has been very, very important to us. You have to remember there’s 238,000 seats every single week from Britain into Ireland and London to Dublin is the second busiest route in the world,” he said.
He said that for the time being Brexit poses more questions at the moment than answers but obviously sterling is today worth 12 to 13 per cent less so Ireland has to ensure it gives value for money more than ever.
Among the measures taken was the 9 per cent VAT rate for the tourism sector. “The days of ‘rip-off Ireland’ have long since passed, we’ve not heard that term since 2008.
“We carry out visitor attitude surveys of travellers between the UK and Ireland and given that 42 per cent of all our visitors come from there it’s a very, very important market for us.
“In 1999 three per cent of visitors thought Ireland was not good value but by 2009 it was as high as 43 per cent – today it’s back to single figures, we’ve worked hard to be competitive and there’s a lot of good value to be had.”
He stressed: “Of course, I would advise anyone and everyone to not book it at the last minute, make sure you plan your journey and you have the capability to travel off-peak, there will be some sensational deals out there.
“We’re coming to the end of the peak summer period and from September onwards there’s going to be a lot of value out there to be had, there’s 60,000 hotel bedrooms out there,” said the Tourism Ireland boss.
“Eating out in Ireland today is just so varied and there’s thousands of additional tables and there’s a lot of things to discover.
“The rate of exchange may be 12-13 per cent down but it’s still better than six or seven years ago when it was at parity and Ireland has learned, and done, a lot since 2008, including cutting VAT on eating out, being much more competitive on prices.”
“We get 10 million visits to Ireland every year, which for a country of 6.5m is exceptionally strong, a quarter of them from Great Britain. Since the crisis there’s an extra 40,000 employed in tourism in this country, so we’re in this for the long haul and serious about getting people to visit,” he added.
Ireland’s tourism market was worth €7.5bn to the country last year, up some €900m on 2014, according to figures released by Fáilte Ireland. Visits from the UK account for 41.6 per cent of visitors to Ireland but their spend is said to be 25 per cent of total income – many spending shorter periods in Ireland, an average of 4.5 days, than long-haul visitors such as visitors from North America and mainland Europe who spend an average of nearly nine days and seven and a half days respectively.
Figures for 2015 found that overseas tourist visits to Ireland grew by 13.1 per cent to 8m, while short haul markets in Britain and mainland Europe recorded respective growth of 11.3 per cent and 15.7 per cent. Fáilte Ireland said that North America and other long-haul markets performed “very strongly”, increasing by 12.9 per cent and 11.7 per cent, respectively.
Britain remains the largest source market, representing 41.6 per cent of all overseas tourists.
Chief Executive Niall Gibbons said that despite Brexit “the British market will remain of significant importance for all of us in the short, medium, and long-term. We have committed to continued monitoring of developments over coming months but, for now, it is very much business as usual. Tourism Ireland’s €4m promotional campaign will continue to roll out in Britain from now until the end of the year, to highlight the island of Ireland to prospective visitors and maintain the strong growth we have seen in recent years.”
Overseas tourist visits to Ireland in 2015 grew by 13.1 per cent to 8m in 2015, half of which were leisure holiday visits. August was the most popular month for overseas tourists, with 12 per cent of visitors coming to Ireland during the month.
Hiking and cross country walking was the most popular activity among overseas tourists; over 1.6m walked or hiked compared to the second most popular activity, cycling, which brought 355,000 visitors.
Golf was the third most popular activity, attracting 198,000 people.
Meanwhile, Tourism Ireland’s office in Britain is spending millions on a UK advertising campaign. Julie Wakley, Tourism Ireland’s Deputy Head of Britain, said: “Great Britain is the largest market for tourism to the island of Ireland and we have seen excellent growth in British visitor numbers so far again this year, with the most recent CSO figures for January to June showing a +16 per cent increase. We are undertaking an extensive programme of promotions throughout 2016, to keep the momentum going and build on that growth.”
Tourism boss says thank you to UK Irish
Niall Gibbons, a frequent visitor to Irish community events in the UK who has always taken a particular interest in visitors from UK to Ireland, said people should make themselves aware of the large increase in numbers of flights to Ireland from airports outside London – particularly Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham.
“There’s now ten flights a day to Ireland from Liverpool alone, which was unheard of before,” he said. “I want to say a tremendous thanks to all of the Irish people in Britain, there’s six million of them, I do every time I go over there and I want to put on the record again our gratitude for all the help and support they have given us over the years and still give us,” he said.