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Ireland And The Business Of Holidays – An Interview With Niall Gibbons Of Tourism Ireland

Every year, on St Patrick’s Day, the whole world seems to get a little bit greener. The global roll call of locations taking part in the festivities grows ever longer, as St Patrick’s celebratory events take place from Shanghai to Sydney and even in Scottish fields. In this interview with Niall Gibbons of Tourism Ireland, I look at how the business of fun is so successfully managed in Ireland and what tourism means to Irish business.

Niall is chief executive of Tourism Ireland, the organisation responsible for marketing the island of Ireland overseas as a premier holiday and business tourism destination.

Niall, St Patrick’s Day is the “big day” for showcasing Ireland to the world, and one of the busiest times for those working in Tourism Ireland. Where are you yourself celebrating St Patrick’s Festival 2012?

I am celebrating St Patrick’s Day this year in London. Great Britain is the largest and most important market for tourism to the island of Ireland – it delivers about 45% of all our overseas visitors each year – and we have had a really packed promotional programme in the run-up to 17 March here this week, to capitalise on the unique opportunity that is St Patrick’s Day. People across the world instantly identify St Patrick’s Day with Ireland and that heightened profile allows us to put the Ireland holiday experience in the spotlight here in Britain, and right across the world.

We love the story of the Scottish farmer who has dyed his sheep green for the day! How did that come about and how do you encourage “going green” with landmarks such as The Royal Palace in Monaco and Niagara Falls?

Over the past few months, Tourism Ireland teams have been working closely with Irish Embassies, the Diaspora and various other interests around the world to make our global ‘greening’ and a busy spring campaign happen. There is a tremendous amount of goodwill towards Ireland – particularly among the Diaspora worldwide – which means that the people we approached to ‘green’ their buildings, world heritage sites, or even their sheep, were very amenable to doing so and joining with us to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.

How important is tourism to the Irish economy?

Tourism is our largest indigenous industry, responsible for in excess of 4% of GNP in the Republic of Ireland and employing approximately about 200,000 people. Last year, approximately 7.3 million overseas visitors came to the island of Ireland (+6% on 2010), delivering revenue of approximately €3.4 billion.

Marketing is more of an emotional appeal than a rational argument. What are the big messages that you can convey about Ireland?

Our messages highlight our strengths – iconic experiences, wonderful landscape and warm, friendly people, as well as better-than-ever value. We are telling people around the world that a holiday in Ireland offers huge diversity, rich culture and unique experiences. The welcome has never been warmer and the value never greater. The tagline for our new advertising campaign this year is ‘Jump into Ireland’– which has been specifically designed to convey a sense of playfulness and to reflect the immersive nature of a holiday here.

Last year, there was a wonderful Flashmob in Central Station Sydney. It’s had over 2 million views on YouTube. Any similar surprises this year?

Our team in Sydney who came up with the idea for the Riverdance flashmob last year have come up with another fantastic, innovative viral video, which is on YouTube – VirtuREEL Irish dancing in Sydney’s Central Station, which has been bringing a smile to the faces of commuters there (and to the faces of the many people who have watched it on YouTube)!

The YouTube – VirtuREEL is a great example of viral marketing. How important is Social Media to Tourism Ireland’s Marketing plans and what platforms do you find to be effective?

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Social media is very important for Tourism Ireland and is now an integral part of all our promotional campaigns, complementing the other more ‘traditional’ elements of our marketing, like advertising and publicity.  We have been working very hard to grow the online tourism conversation about Ireland around the globe and to inspire potential holidaymakers to then come and visit. We have a significant presence on Facebook and Ireland is now the third most popular tourism destination in the world, after Australia and Spain. We have grown our fanbase from a couple of thousand at the beginning of 2010 to the grand total of over 660,000 fans today across 16 markets – including Great Britain, the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Nordic Region, Sweden, Australia, the Netherlands, India, Japan, New Zealand, Poland and the Gulf Countries. Tourism Ireland also has 12 Twitter accounts, with about 37,000 followers at the last count. In China, Tourism Ireland has about 116,000 fans on three social networks, including Tencent, Douban and Sina Weibo.

What are the main markets for Irish tourism and what is it about Ireland that attracts these cultures?

We have four key source markets – Great Britain, the United States, Germany and France – which together contribute about three-quarters of all visitors to Ireland. We focus on consumers in those markets who are primarily interested in sightseeing and experiencing local culture, as these people have a greater propensity to holiday in Ireland.

We’ve been hearing a lot about “The Gathering 2013”. What is this event about?

The Gathering Ireland 2013” will be our biggest ever tourism initiative and will consist of a year-long programme of festivals, events and other gatherings in every region of the country, providing an opportunity for those with ancestral links and an affinity for Ireland to play a part in – and benefit from – our economic recovery. It is an invitation to the wider world to connect with the people of Ireland in business, the arts, sports, communities and public life. It will be targeted at people living around the world with a connection to Ireland, whether through birth, ancestry, family connections, friendships, business or education, as well as at those who simply have a fondness for Ireland. The Gathering had its overseas launch here in London last night when Minister Varadkar addressed over 400 key business leaders at a St Patrick’s event. It will be launched in Ireland on 16 April, when Tourism Ireland will also have 300 top tour operators in Dublin for the annual Meitheal workshop.

What other Irish events are in the pipeline?

There are lots of events in the pipeline for 2012 including a wonderful programme of cultural festivals throughout Ireland – such as the Galway Arts Festival, the Wexford Festival Opera, the Dublin Theatre Festival, Belfast Festival at Queens and the Cork Jazz Festival. Other major events include the Volvo Ocean Race finale in Galway this summer and of course, the annual Notre Dame vs Navy game which comes to Dublin in September, when we look forward to welcoming thousands of American football fans. 2012 is also a year when Northern Ireland takes centre stage with a series of wonderful occasions. Titanic Belfast, the largest Titanic visitor experience in the world, will open its doors in April. The new visitor centre at the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO world heritage site, will open this summer and the European Tour’s Irish Open golf tournament will return to Royal Portrush for the first time in several generations.

You always look happy in the press Niall, what do you love most about your job?

Ireland is a wonderful country and a fantastic place for a holiday, so I consider myself very lucky to be responsible for promoting the island as a holiday destination around the world. I am also very fortunate to lead an innovative and committed team who work extremely hard across our 22 markets overseas.

Sincere thanks to Niall for taking the time out of his busy schedule in London to do this interview with us. For those of you living outside of Ireland, I hope this interview will encourage you to come and visit us! Please feel free to share your thoughts on Irish holidays with us below.

Helen Cousins, a chartered accountant by profession, is a business mentor, trainer and consultant for a wide range of Irish SMEs, often working under the auspices of state agencies via her company Xcel Business Solutions. In a successful career spanning more than 25 years, Helen worked in accountancy practice for PricewaterhouseCoopers, and worked in Financial Controller and senior management positions in manufacturing industry, before starting her own consultancy for small businesses. Helen is also a self catering entrepreneur, operating her own self catering holiday home business in Wexford. She is a director and former Chair of the Irish Self Catering Federation, and she works closely with the tourist industry in Ireland.

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  • Thanks Helen for doing this interview, some great insights from Niall, it’s comforting to see that brand Ireland is in good hands, including some smart use of social media in getting the message out there. I think the big opportunity for Ireland with social is with the markets, where we are not traditionally known or strong i.e China etc. 

  • Thanks Niall. I have to admit that I’ve never heard of the 3 Chinese networks cited – Tencent, Douban and Sina Weibo. A good illustration of how you must know your market and where you customer hangs out online. I have to congratulate Niall (GIbbons 🙂 for being a CEO on twitter, there are not too many CEOs of larger organisations on there.

    ~ Helen

  • The states are inviting the celebrities and the famous people as brand ambassador to promote the tourism. The tag line for new strategy this season is awesome really and which has been created to express a feeling of a fun and to indicate the immerse characteristics of your holidays.

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    Thanks for the contribution Lord Haw Haw

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