So much will be different when the 2020 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open finally gets underway on Thursday, from the date and venue to the absence of spectators. Yet in the midst of the biggest crisis in a generation and in this most trying of years, the European Tour’s annual visit to these shores will serve the same very important purpose it always has in providing a window to the world of the island’s golfing treasures.
That may seem superficial but with golf tourism bringing in €270 million annually to the Irish economy in the years before Covid-19, beaming our courses into the living rooms and clubhouses of golfers around the globe remains a priority in the battle to encourage them back to the island of Ireland when it is safe to do so.
So even if it is Galgorm Spa and Golf Resort in Co Antrim in September rather than the original host venue at Mount Juliet in Co Kilkenny in late May, the Irish Open is essential for promoting golf tourism, explained Fáilte Ireland’s product sales & distribution manager Martin Donnelly in an interview with the Irish Examiner.
“It’s slightly different to what was planned but the reality remains that from a media perspective it is still an unbelievable platform, the Irish Open,” Donnelly said.
The pictures from Galgorm will be beamed right across the world and it keeps Ireland front of mind from both a buyer perspective and of course consumer perspective, looking towards better times and keeping Ireland front and centre of that mindset.”
The buyer perspective so important to Donnelly, refers to the overseas tour operators who helped to make Irish golf tourism such a hugely lucrative sector for Ireland prior to the Covid-19 pandemic when more than 200,000 overseas visitors played annually here and accounted for over 1.7 million bed nights.
It is also why Fáilte Ireland in conjunction with the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO) last week went digital to hold its sixth annual Golf Ireland Convention online.
Where in previous years, golf tour operators from overseas were brought to Ireland for five or six days, shown the product first hand and put in the same room as Irish golf industry suppliers, from courses to resorts, hotels and other accommodations, last week’s Virtual Golf Ireland Convention brought together 104 tour operators from 32 countries including the US, Canada, UK, Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Australia for more than 2000 online one-to-one appointments with 110 Irish golf tourism businesses over two days.
Donnelly pointed out while there remained so much uncertainty around the novel coronavirus and its ongoing threat to public health and its impact on travel, the convention was not about bringing in golfers to Ireland within a specific timeframe.
“When the time is right but we are not at that point yet. It’s purely about when the time is right. The average conversion time for leisure tourism is 18 months so we wanted to make sure there was an opportunity for suppliers here in Ireland to support our industry in keeping themselves front of mind amongst the travel trade overseas.
“We didn’t want to miss the opportunity and the digital opportunity presented itself and we took it and I think the reaction from both the buyer side overseas and the supplier side here has been amazing. I think they welcomed it with open arms.”
Donnelly praised the adaptiveness and reflexiveness of the Irish golf industry to meet the demands of existing overseas clients who wanted to delay their trips until it is safe to travel and he added: “The second thing is the determination from the buyer and their clients to not cancel but to reschedule has also been amazing. They don’t want to lose out on their holiday, they just want to come to Ireland at a different time, when that time is right.
“So it’s been an enormous administrative task but one the golf industry here in Ireland has absolutely embraced and done an amazing job in delivering that rescheduling.”
Donnelly is also confident golf tourism can rebound from a potentially devastating year for the industry.
“A very tough year, of course it has been. Between 2008 and 2012, during one of our worst economic experiences of a generation, golf tourism into Ireland grew on average by six per cent year on year against a climate where general tourism declined.
“So I think the golf tourism industry has shown itself to be very resilient and I’ve no doubt it will be very resilient again.
“Of course, timing is everything and at the moment we aren’t looking too far into the future as to when that might be but because of its track record we do know it will bounce back very well and Ireland remains a destination that is in significant demand right across the world.”