Bringing it all back home
Described as the largest tourism initiative ever undertaken by the State, The Gathering 2013’s prime objective is to entice an extra 325,000 visitors to the Republic next year
AT A TIME when Government departments are under relentless pressure to pare back expenditure, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar has been given permission to spend millions throwing a party.
The Gathering Ireland 2013, which is to be funded by his department, aims to persuade hundreds of thousands of people to make a special effort to come here next year to take part in festivals, cultural and sporting events, family reunions, business meetings and myriad other occasions, and to tap into Ireland’s ability to make people feel welcome.
The project is being described by its organisers as the largest tourism initiative ever undertaken by the State.
In the main, it involves a massive effort, directed by a central steering group, to get the public to come up with ways to encourage people to visit Ireland during 2013.
A budget of €5 million has been sanctioned for this year by Varadkar’s department in order to promote the idea, and it is expected a similar amount of public money will be spent on the project next year.
The prime objective is to entice an extra 325,000 visitors to the Republic next year, whether they be tourists, people here for business purposes, or people visiting relatives.
According to Áine Kavanagh, a spokeswoman for the project team, another aspect of the idea is to encourage Irish people to “live a bit” and enjoy themselves after the difficult few years we have been through and those which still lie ahead.
According to Fáilte Ireland, there were 6.24 million overseas visitors to the Republic in 2011 and they spent a total of €3.16 billion. The previous year there were 5.95 million visitors and they spent €3 billion, while in 2009 there were 6.58 million visitors and they spent €3.4 billion.
This makes for an average spend of approximately €500, or an additional spend of €162 million into the Irish economy if an extra 325,000 visitors were convinced to come here.
Project director of The Gathering, Jim Miley, says that a more conservative estimate of a per-person spend is probably justified given that many of those who respond to The Gathering message will be staying with family or friends.
The Central Statistics Office, which collects data on visitor numbers, is to include a line in its surveys in 2013 asking people if their visit is connected with The Gathering project. The project has also set up a website ( thegatheringireland.com) and has asked those who have organised events to register and give information as to the number of foreign visitors they expect.
With these tools, the organisers expect to be able to measure the effect of the project, despite the significant variation in visitor numbers year-on-year to the Republic.
A key part of the strategy is the involvement of local communities in what is to be a State-wide effort. Already every county has a co-ordinator for the project and a “cell structure” is being created through which local authorities, local community groups, businesses and other organisations can become involved.
Two-thirds of these local cells are already in place and public meetings have been held in 12 counties so far. Miley, who has attended most of these, says the average attendance has been in the region of 150.
A core part of these facilitated, structured meetings is the setting up of round table groups of 10 who are asked to come up with ideas and names for the people who will try to advance these ideas. Already some 300 events have been registered with the central project team.
One of the first meetings was in early June, in the Abbey Hotel in Roscommon. There were approximately 200 people present, with representatives of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association, the GAA, the local tourist industry and the local authorities among those taking part.
“One of the ideas to emerge had to do with a female vet, Aileen Isobel Cust, who found it impossible to get work in Britain in the 1890s, because she was a woman. But then a vet in Roscommon contacted her and let her practice with him. So it was decided to have a convention of female vets in Roscommon next year, based on this heritage,” says Kavanagh.
The idea for The Gathering had its genesis at the first global forum meeting in Farmleigh under the Cowen government but nothing came of it. When the new Government came to power, Fáilte Ireland made a presentation to Varadkar and he decided to run with it. He got support from the Taoiseach, who was minister for tourism in the Rainbow Coalition in the 1990s.