Attracting missing British tourists will be 2013 focus

Sat, Dec 29, 2012, 00:00

Reversing a sharp decline in visitors from the State’s largest tourism market will be a major focus for the industry in 2013, after 100,000 British visitors were lost this year.

Much of the fall has been attributed by tourism bodies to the flagging British economy and a general decline in overseas trips from the UK.

However, British data shows Ireland may be bearing the brunt of the decline.

While visitors from Britain to Ireland fell by 4.5 per cent in the August to October period this year, British visitors to the original EU 15 states increased by almost 3.5 per cent.

Overall, visitors to the State from Britain this year (to October) fell by 4 per cent, while UK visits to the EU 15 rose by almost 1 per cent.

The decline has raised major concerns in the tourism industry here, which says it cannot afford to abandon the British market, which accounts for almost 45 per cent of visitors. “It is bigger than all of continental Europe combined. You don’t walk away from your biggest market,” Irish Tourist Industry Confederation (ITIC) chief executive Eamonn McKeon said yesterday.

Asked about the decline, Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons said “a lot of people in Britain are staying at home” while “consumer confidence”was at an all time low.

Overall British trips overseas held their own this year (flat to October) and spending by British visitors abroad was up by 4 per cent, according to the UK statistics.

International holiday trips from Britain are down by 18 per cent since 2006; however, since then holidaymakers from Britain to Ireland have halved.

Gibbons noted a “value issue” remained a “hangover” from the boom years. In 2009 40 per cent of British visitors said Ireland was poor value.

While accommodation offered “fantastic value”, mid-price dining and alcohol were more expensive than the UK , he said.

“We got out of line on prices . . . we lost our competitiveness,” McKeon said.

We got a reputation as a place for great craic but expensive,” he said pointing to a perception of priciness and a “£5 pint” that lives on. The message needs to get out that “things on the ground have really changed and there is good value in Ireland”, he said.

Gibbons also pointed to bad weather forcing British people to make a sun break this year. “France and Spain have sun, a product which is recession proof,” he said. McKeon said it was a waste of time trying to compete with the sun-chasers. This summer was the wettest in Britain in 100 years.

Ireland is viewed by British visitors as competing mainly with domestic locations, according to research by the Tourism Recovery Taskforce (which includes Tourism Ireland and the ITIC).

The island of Ireland lost share in the British market despite the overall GB domestic holiday market increasing by 11.7 per cent since 2007.

However, this year the UK domestic market declined by almost 3 per cent, with a 14 per cent fall coinciding with the Olympics in July.

A new plan by the Tourism Recovery Taskforce called “GB Paths to Growth” hopes to reverse the decline and increase British visitors by 5 per cent per year from 2013- 2016.

One of the main strategies is to focus on segments of the market receptive to what Ireland can offer, such as young couples looking for new experiences and excitement and older couples looking to explore culture and landscape.

“If this plan doesn’t work we will come up with another,” McKeon said.