Asia Briefing: On a mission in China to put Ireland on the tourist trail
Rising incomes and an expanding middle class have seen frantic growth in the travel industry, and more than three million tourists from China visit Europe every year, with competition growing between nations to woo the visitors.
Tourism Ireland led its largest ever trade mission to China last week, with 20 Irish companies looking for ways to appeal to the Chinese tourist and increase awareness of Ireland as a destination.
“Outbound travel from China has grown at an exceptionally high rate over recent years, with the number of international trips growing significantly and forecasts for the next decade suggesting an even greater rise. Although awareness of Ireland in China is still quite low, we believe that this market represents a significant opportunity for Irish tourism,” said Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons.
Tourism Ireland is aiming to increase visitor numbers from China over the next five years from about 17,000 visitors in 2012 to 50,000 per year.
“We are hoping to see a lot more Chinese tourists in Ireland next year and in the years to come,” said Kieran Fitzgerald of Custom Ireland, who previously spent five years promoting Jiuzhai Valley National Park to western tourists.
“With the help of various trade missions and Tourism Ireland’s efforts, the awareness of Ireland in the Chinese market has increased hugely since I first started working out here six years ago,” said Fitzgerald. The figures for the growth of outbound travel from China are impressive, with the number of international trips growing from 10 million in 2000 to 83 million in 2012.
Forecasts for the next decade suggest an even greater rise. China is now the third most lucrative outbound travel market in the world, with Chinese people spending $72.6 billion (€54 billion), according to UN figures, up 400 per cent in the past decade.
The event involved a week of workshops, presentations and networking events aimed at convincing more than 450 of China’s top travel agents and tour operators to encourage them to include Ireland in their 2014 brochures.
The delegation included 20 Irish companies which took part in a week-long trip to meet and do business with top travel agents and tour operators, as well as key travel and lifestyle journalists, in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
Among the companies taking part were travel agencies such as Club Travel, Go Europe Travel and Custom Ireland, hotels such as Glasson Country House Hotel, the Shelbourne, Manor House Hotels and the Griffin Hotel Group and destinations including the Guinness Storehouse and Visit Belfast.
Ireland is not a member of the Shengen treaty. Countries such as Germany and France gain tourists by being members as visitors only require one visa for the whole area. The visa waiver scheme, introduced in 2011, has played an important role in encouraging visitors from emerging markets, such as China, to visit Ireland when they are visiting the UK, as they don’t need to get a second visa.
Tourism Ireland in China reported an immediate and significant increase in interest in Ireland – with 14 leading Chinese tour operators deciding to include Ireland in their programmes or itineraries for the first time ever as a result of the initiative – delivering an estimated 6,000 additional visitors.
“We want to tell the Chinese trade that it is much easier to get a visa for Ireland and the UK. The process is much quicker. The application is online,” said Gibbons.
One of the aims of the delegation is to expand awareness of Ireland by promoting experiences such as Titanic Belfast, which has had more than 7,700 Chinese visitors since opening in 2012, or Riverdance, which is very popular in China. At the end of this November, Riverdance 2 will get its world premiere in China.
Other selling points are world heritage sites such as the cliffs of Moher, which Chinese president Xi Jinping visited last year, and the Giant’s Causeway. Castles are also a big draw. “We want to give Chinese consumers compelling reasons to book their holidays to Ireland. We customise China’s website content, social media platforms and e-zines for maximum appeal with Chinese audience’s tastes and interests in mind,” he said.