US tourists answering Ireland’s ‘clarion call’

After the success of The Gathering, the boss of CIÉ Tours International forecasts new records being broken this year

Brian Stack: “I cannot say that many of our passengers attended many of The Gathering events but they went to Ireland because they felt that this was a good time to go.” Photograph: John T Ohle Photography

Brian Stack: “I cannot say that many of our passengers attended many of The Gathering events but they went to Ireland because they felt that this was a good time to go.” Photograph: John T Ohle Photography

Fri, Jan 31, 2014, 01:00

This is the busiest time of the year for Brian Stack. In early January it is “as if a switch goes off”, he says, and CIÉ Tours is inundated with calls about holiday tours in Ireland for about three months.

The touring company, wholly owned by semi-state CIÉ, normally has 75 per cent of its business booked by St Patrick’s Day. The company, a $100 million (€74 million) enterprise, is responsible for bringing the most people to Ireland as the latest tour operator sending visitors across the Atlantic.

In 2013, the year of The Gathering, the country’s tourism marketing initiative to attract people to Ireland, CIÉ Tours carried 50,000 passengers, including 43,000 from the United States. The remaining passengers travel from Europe and Australia.

Stack describes the initiative as “a clarion call” and a “reason to go”, making 2013 the best year for tourism to Ireland from America ever and the best year in terms of revenues and profits for CIÉ Tours.

“The Gathering has been great. The reason why it is great for us is that when you focus publicity on something and advertising dollars, this grabbed people’s attention,” he says.

“I cannot say that many of our passengers attended many of The Gathering events but they went to Ireland because they felt that this was a good time to go,” says Stack, speaking in an office in the Park Avenue building in New York that also houses the Irish Consulate and Enterprise Ireland’s offices.

Even though The Gathering made it a bumper tourism year, Stack is forecasting new records being broken in 2014. He is aiming to bring between 15 and 20 per cent more tourists to Ireland this year.

CIÉ Tours spent $300,000 (€220,059) on advertising The Gathering and brought in a $7 million (€5.1 million) return on the investment. Stack says that the touring company gets back $40 (€29.3) for every dollar spent on advertising.

The company has been around for 82 years. Last year it made a big deal of a married couple who met on a CIÉ Tour in 1963 and returned on another of the company’s tours in 2013. The company put them up in the Shelbourne Hotel to mark the occasion.

Stack’s only criticism of The Gathering is that it should have lasted longer given the success of the campaign.

“In retrospect, they actually shouldn’t have put a year on it. There is no question that there is a knock-on effect for 2014,” he says.

“ Maybe by 2015 there will be some other concept that will attract people. All you need is to get a hook to get people going.”

Anyone driving the country roads and main thoroughfares will know the ubiquitous CIÉ Tours logo as coaches ferry hundreds of passengers around Ireland’s main tourist attractions from the Guinness brewery in Dublin to Bunratty Castle in Co Clare.

As a specialist in coach tours, it is unsurprising that 65 per cent of CIÉ Tour passengers are women and 65 per cent are over 55 years of age. Visitors travel from across the US, with 40 per cent from the east coast and 30 per cent from the midwest.

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