The recently appointed chief executive of Tourism Ireland, the former Google executive Alice Mansergh, says the future of the country’s tourism industry has to be ‘an (all)-island story’ – but this risks being complicated by the UK’s post-Brexit requirement for electronic travel authorisations to cross the border.
The Trinity College Dublin graduate in Irish and English literature is the daughter of the former senior adviser to the Irish government on Northern Ireland and the peace process, Dr Martin Mansergh.
Ms Mansergh takes up her post at Tourism Ireland after 19 years at Google where she reached the position of managing director of customer solutions, UK and Ireland. At Google she was responsible for encouraging independent businesses online to market themselves online. Five years ago, she was appointed to the board of Fáilte Ireland which is responsible for south of the Border.
Tourism Ireland itself was set up under the Good Friday Agreement as a North South body and markets the whole of the island to overseas visitors. Last week in London, Ms Mansergh led the Tourism Ireland delegation at the World Travel Market, the biggest event of its kind and introduced 20 local tourism businesses to leading international tourism operators. In interviews, she pointed out that moving from tech to tourism is not as different as it might seem to outsiders – because 80 per cent of consumers research and book their holidays online. Most of those visitors do not distinguish between parts of the island of Ireland when making travel plans – although recent post-Brexit visa requirements do pose difficulties for cross-border travel.
Visitors to Ireland hoping to take in Northern Ireland will in future be required to pay the UK for an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) to cross the border. She said: “We work so closely with our government departments in Northern Ireland and the Republic, so we always want to respect and work with government policy.
“The principle of the ETA is that it’s meant to be part of immigration policy but in practice as it stands it would mean that if you were an international visitor from Europe or from the US and you were on the island of Ireland thinking of heading to NI, you would need pre-authorisation in order to travel. “When we speak to industry on the ground there is some nervousness for a couple of reasons.
“Firstly, industry on the ground is really keen to make sure having to get that pre-authorisation doesn’t act as a barrier to visitors who might have visited the island and then want to hop up to see attractions in Northern Ireland. “We don’t want them to feel that it’s a point of friction that they have to get this authorisation. “The other risk conversely is if people aren’t fully aware of it, given that there isn’t a hard border and there’s no plan and no desire for there to be one, and if folks unwittingly visit NI but don’t have that ETA, does that risk putting visitors in a place of criminality that we wouldn’t want them to be in?
“Those are the primary concerns that we are helping industry and working with government on at the moment. “There are smart suggestions floating round such as a waiver for somebody that’s just visiting for two weeks in Northern Ireland… but these are only ideas or suggestions and ultimately it comes down to working really constructively with government departments. “At Tourism Ireland our primary job is to make sure that people are so excited to visit and so committed to NI that they’re going to make it by hook or by crook.
“We really focus on that desirability first and foremost.” Tourism Ireland, Tourism NI and Fáilte Ireland all work closely together, she pointed out. “We are close, and we should be close because when you think about it, Tourism Northern Ireland and Fáilte are the folks doing the product development on the ground and working with industry, and Tourism Ireland works on the overseas marketing element.
“Given visitors tend to think about ‘well, what am I going to do while I’m on the island’, it’s then better for communities and economies in both Ireland and Northern Ireland if we give the visitors what they want, which is putting the whole story together and showing them what’s on offer.
“That’s really the origins story of Tourism Northern Ireland, we believe we can bring in more visitors and more revenue for Northern Ireland and Ireland when we work together and have that island story,” she said. Ms Mansergh also spoke of international marketing plans for Ireland’s Halloween celebrations because “Halloween is celebrated by more Americans than St Patrick’s Day.”
“It originated on his island 2,000-plus years ago, so imagine if Halloween was credibly owned by the island of Ireland with Derry/Londonderry playing a leading role.”
Seven tourism businesses from the island of Ireland were guests of Tourism Ireland at the Classic Motor Show in Birmingham over the weekend to market car touring holidays.
The annual Classic Motor Show takes place over three days and attracts around 70,000 visitors. The seven businesses hosted by Tourism Ireland were: Causeway Coastal Route; Harvey’s Point; Irish Ferries; P&O Ferries; Sneem Hotel; The Gleneagle Group and Waterfront Hotel Dungloe.
Tourism Ireland’s Head of Great Britain Julie Wakley said: “The Classic Motor Show was an excellent opportunity to highlight our superb driving routes, including the Causeway Coastal Route, Ireland’s Ancient East and the Wild Atlantic Way. (Next year) marks the tenth anniversary of the Wild Atlantic Way, which provides us with another great hook to showcase the route.
“Tourism Ireland is encouraging British travellers to come and discover the island of Ireland by car. “Visitors who use a car on holidays tend to stay longer, spend more and are more likely to visit more than one region. “Our message is that the island of Ireland is a great choice for a driving holiday.”