Luring back British visitors who have deserted Ireland in their droves and who are opting to holiday in cheaper, sunnier destinations, is one of the key challenges facing Irish tourism, a hoteliers conference was told.
Between 2007 and 2011, the number of cross-channel tourists dropped dramatically from 1.8m to 800,000, the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) conference heard.
The aim now is to attract an extra 200,000 UK visitors by 2016, with the aid of an accelerated Tourism Ireland marketing campaign. While accommodation prices are now more competitive here, many British people still think food and alcohol are still too expensive in Ireland.
Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons said the poor state of the British economy was also factor and the number of UK people travelling abroad was down to the level it was a decade ago.
Also, an unfavourable exchange rate for sterling against the euro was not helping the British market, he pointed out.
Meanwhile, the 400 hoteliers and guesthouse owners at the conference considered the long-term potential of The Gathering this year, expected to attract 325,000 additional visitors.
IHF president Michael Vaughan felt the real long-term success story of The Gathering would come from harnessing the momentum, energy and grass-root enthusiasm.
They should encourage ongoing participation by local communities in regional tourism programmes aimed at providing new and compelling reasons for visitors to go to the regions, he said.
“The Gathering should provide a new way of doing tourism,’’ said Mr Vaughan, from Lahinch, Co Clare.
The majority of hotels and guesthouses (76%) expect to see a growth in business this year as a direct result of The Gathering.
More than 3,000 local initiatives are being organised throughout the country with hundreds of community groups getting involved. Up to 300 projects have been identified as offering significant potential to become major tourism headline events beyond 2013.
Over half (53%) of hoteliers have already reported a rise in overall business from this time last year.
“The success of regional tourism has always been based on providing real experiences for our visitors when they come through the wealth of our scenery, through engagement with our people and our culture,’’ Mr Vaughan stated.
‘’Active, engaged communities bring the Irish welcome to life and that will be the lasting effect of The Gathering that can be built upon into the future,” he added.
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