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’
The IHF has been trying to monitor how many Gathering-related visitors are using their hotels this year. “There is nothing in the hundreds,” Vaughan says, “but there is a whole lot of people getting back in touch with Ireland because they heard about the Gathering. I had a family of eight from Virginia stay with me for three nights this summer. Their father said he wanted to bring them back to Ireland before he died, because this was where his great grandmother came from. They weren’t attending any formal Gathering event, they had just come by themselves to be together in Ireland. There are a lot of US people who have been planning to come to Ireland in the next few years anyway, and this has provided a hook to do so.”
IHF members have also been reporting “a lot of smaller family reunions from the domestic market. There are bookings for 12 people for reunion lunches or dinners at local hotels, and people are saying its their own little Gathering.
“Those aren’t registered as Gatherings as such, but we know they’re happening; lots of reunions and little family lunches and dinners. They’re happening under the radar, all over the country.” Vaughan sees this as a “subtext” to the bigger story.
Vaughan thinks the hoped-for figures of 325,000 extra visitors is optimistic. “I think we over-egged the numbers early on,” he says. The Gathering organisers themselves say it will be mid 2014 before the data about visitor numbers will be known and collated.
Vaughan believes the year is about more than simply attracting tourists. “If the Gathering creates a sense of purpose within tourism in Ireland, that in itself is a huge thing. The Gathering could look like a cynical exercise to get tourists in here, but when you start looking at it, it is not like that; it has been about benefitting communities through tourism.
“The Gathering has been more a movement through tourism by small communities: what can our town or village do to attract tourists and make them stay longer? I think that will be the ongoing legacy.”