The initiative, which ends with a New Year’s event in Dublin, is being hailed as the critical factor in the record number of tourists from the US and elsewhere to Ireland this year.
Overseas visits to Ireland for the first 10 months of the year are up 7.3% — 414,000 extra visitors on last year. Visitors from some countries, including the key US market, are up by double figures.
Research by Ipsos MRBI found between 250,000 and 275,000 overseas visitors to Ireland travelled specifically because of The Gathering.
The growth in visitor numbers attributable to the initiative is estimated to be worth about €170m — a huge return on the initial Government investment of €12m.
Jim Miley, project director of The Gathering, said it had exceeded expectations, “particularly in terms of community engagement”.
“Our target was to help create 20 or 30 events per county, so a few hundred in total. We ended up with around 5,000 which shows just how much communities grabbed the idea and made it their own,” he said.
This community interest is reflected in the research which found that 71% of respondents felt the initiative brought locals together.
Regarding whether or not another Gathering is planned for 2014, Mr Miley said he would be recommending that it should not be replicated more frequently than every five years, stating that if repeated annually, it would diminish in impact.
Commenting on the negative publicity the project received when it was launched — actor Gabriel Byrne described it as “a shakedown” — Mr Miley said: “I think the bit of criticism from Gabriel Byrne probably helped us in the long run.
“This wasn’t just a bunch of people in an office in Dublin planning a tourism event. It was something which local communities took and ran with.”