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Positive vibes from Tourism Ireland CEO

THERE are grounds for “cautious optimism” in the tourism sector, while value for money for visitors is better now than it has been for 10 years, according to Tourism Ireland CEO Niall Gibbons. He was also very positive about the potential for developing the Chinese market in the years ahead.
Mr Gibbons was in Clare this week where he visited the Shannon College of Hotel Management, as well as meeting representatives of Shannon Airport, Shannon Development and the Cliffs of Moher.
“There was a six percent increase in the number of visitors last year, which is very welcome and there’s a lot of cautious optimism for the season ahead. The spread of tourism isn’t as even as people might like to see.
“Dublin, Cork and Galway would have seen a disproportionate share, rural areas not so much and it’s valuable to be able to sit down with people on a one-to-one basis and get a sense of what’s going on,” Mr Gibbons said, when he met with The Clare Champion at Dromoland Castle on Wednesday morning.
He said Tourism Ireland has made a lot of effort in promoting flights into Shannon. “We have done campaigns with Ryanair on the routes from Gatwick, Stansted and Liverpool. We worked on Rennes Airport with Aer Lingus to target 40 travel agents.
“In the US this spring we have a print and online campaign in partnership with Aer Lingus promoting good value flights and the headline for that is Irish Summer on Sale. It has appeared in the New York Times, New York Post and Boston Globe. They’re just examples of what we’re doing.”
Mr Gibbons said many foreign journalists have been brought on trips to Clare, something that generated an estimated €29 million worth of publicity.
Ireland has become a far more cost-effective destination, according to Mr Gibbons.
“Our value for money perception, where we lost a lot of ground over the Celtic Tiger years, has started to improve again and we have seen improvements in 2010 and 2011. The accommodation sector has led the way; according to hotels.com we have the cheapest hotel costs in Western Europe and we’re starting to see restaurants adjust their pricing as well.
“Places like North America, France and Germany, our value for money rating is at its strongest rating for 10 years in those three markets, which is encouraging. Where other places are starting to see inflation, there’s no sign of it in the hospitality sector anyway.”
While three-quarters of foreign tourists come from the USA, the UK, France and Germany, the visit of Chinese Vice President Xi to the county was a huge coup for tourism and China is a massive emerging market.


“After the successful visit of the Chinese Vice-Premier here we got great publicity and people are actually going to the Cliffs of Moher now to get their picture taken exactly where he was. While it’s not going to solve all our problems tomorrow, I was out in China on the Taoiseach’s mission and we met a lot of tour operators, some of whom are programming Ireland for the first time.
“The extension of the visa waiver scheme until 2016 is very helpful. There are operators who used to just programme the UK from China and nine of them are programming Ireland now too. They are selling eight to 10-day packages, coming to London, the Lake District and then to Ireland.
“Just to give you an example, the number of Chinese people who took holidays overseas last year was 72 million, that was up 20% on the year before and by 2020 it’s expected to be 100 million, it’ll be the biggest outbound market in the world.
“At the moment the biggest outbound market is Germany, bigger than the US even, but China is working its way up. Obviously most people leaving China go to countries nearby, but to put in perspective the number of Chinese who come to Ireland every year is just under 10,000, the UK is 190,000 but eight times more of them go to France than the UK, and six times to Germany, so there is a lot of potential.”
He said the Cliffs of Moher has made a strong start to the year, and that it has been asked to take part in the ‘Global Greening’ project on St Patrick’s Day next year. “Our focus has been overseas but there were a few buildings in Dublin last year and we asked the Cliffs to green up next year because it’s such a stunning attraction.”

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