The Gathering: shakedown or success story?
More than halfway through the initiative, opinions of tourism insiders range from ‘simple and clever’ marketing to ‘a crackpot waste of money’
When they take bookings, Trident staff try to find out why people are booking that particular property, so they can make the best match for their needs. In the process of doing so, they’ve taken several bookings for Gathering events. Their most unusual one was a Catholic pilgrimage group from France, who booked six houses in Connemara and brought their own priest and translator with them. “They had heard about the Gathering from one of their group who had Irish roots. They came and toured as many holy places as they could; places like Knock.”
Another recent booking they had was in the Burren, again a group that booked six houses. “They had all been in university together, and now were all married and had families, and they’d been promising to get together for years. This year, they said the Gathering made them do it.”
Bookings are up 19 per cent on last year, and Doolan attributes a “significant part of that” to the Gathering effect. “I think promotion of tourism in Ireland has been very fragmented in recent years: websites, apps, campaigns. The only real purpose of what Tourism Ireland Inc does is to brand Ireland, and that’s what they’ve done well this year.”
‘Crackpot waste of money’
“The Gathering is a crackpot waste of money,” is the alternative view of Cathal O’Connell, founder and chief executive of Paddywagon Tours.
“We bring on average 20,000 Americans into Ireland every year, which is 50 per cent of our market. We have a question on our website when they make a booking, as to if they are coming here because of the Gathering. Only about 1 per cent of them have heard of it. We cover all markets, from hostels to five-star hotels. Numbers from the US might be up, but that is due to the fact the US dollar is strong compared to the euro. It has been a total waste of taxpayers’ money. The return compared to the spend will be minuscule.”
Michael Vaughan, owns and manages Vaughan Lodge Hotel in Lahinch, Co Clare, and is president of the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF). “I think Gabriel Byrne did the tourism family in Ireland a huge, huge favour by bringing up the topic of how we treat the diaspora, and the ‘shakedown’. He started the conversation about how we should represent Ireland for the modern tourist from the diaspora. As tourism bodies, we weren’t as aware of it as we should have been. It was a wake-up call for us, and it has focused us on changing the tourism message.”