Céad míle fáilte: hoteliers to extend warm welcome to visitors from east

Wed, Mar 7, 2012, 00:00

MISO SOUP at the breakfast buffet, slippers in the bedroom and brochures in Chinese. These are some of the special touches being added by Irish hoteliers in a bid to woo visitors from the emerging tourist markets of Asia, Russia and Brazil.

The rapidly growing economies of countries such as China and India mean that there is an increasing number of high- spending consumers interested in seeing the world.

Some 70 million Chinese travelled overseas last year, 10,000 of whom came to Ireland. Tourism Ireland chief executive

Niall Gibbons said the Chinese market had strong potential but it would take time to develop. It got a boost from the publicity that accompanied the recent visit of Chinese vice-president Xi Jinping, he said. The opening of services by Emirates and Etihad airlines, linking Ireland with China through Dubai and Abu Dhabi, was another step forward.

Mr Gibbons says the number of Chinese travelling overseas was increasing rapidly. Last year’s figure was a 22 per cent increase on 2010; by 2020 an estimated 100 million Chinese would be travelling abroad, he said.

Fiona O’Sullivan of Custom Ireland has been to China several times, as her company organises tailor-made travel programmes to Ireland.

She says a direct flight from China to Dublin would make a huge difference but that it is a complicated issue. “It takes time to build relationships in China,” Ms O’Sullivan says, “but then things can happen very quickly.”

She adds that the media coverage of the recent visit of Mr Xi could have a major impact.

The market also got a lift when the Irish Government introduced a visa waiver programme last July.

This allows people from countries such as India, Bahrain, Kuwait, China and Russia, who have obtained a UK visa, to travel to the Republic without getting another visa.

The waiver is a pilot scheme due to expire in October but its extension looks likely.

Tourists availing of the waiver are not counted on arrival, but the Government is looking at ways to track the numbers.

A Department of Tourism spokesman said 24 tour operators and travel agents had added Ireland to their programmes for the first time this year on the back of the waiver programme. Ten of these are in India, nine in China and five in the Gulf states.

India is another attractive market for Ireland, particularly as it adds 40 million people to its middle class each year.

An estimated 13 million foreign trips were taken by Indians last year and that is expected to increase to 50 million by 2020.

The Republic’s share of these visitors was 15,000 last year, while 400,000 Indians visited the UK.

The Irish tourism industry is hoping for a boost from this summer’s screening of the Bollywood blockbuster Ek Tha Tiger (Once There Was a Tiger), which was filmed in Ireland in September.

It will be seen by an estimated 100 million people.

Tourism Ireland has also been focusing on Russia and Brazil. The numbers travelling to Ireland from these countries have been very small in the past, but they are valuable high-spending visitors from fast-growing markets.

Carton House in Maynooth is one of the Irish hotels working to attract guests from emerging markets. Its general manager, David Webster, was in India a few weeks ago and his sales manager has just returned from Russia.

Mr Webster says the Indian economy was booming. During his visit, people constantly talked about the thriving Irish economy.

“Not one person mentioned the bailout, it was a real eye-opener,” he says. “There was such confidence and enthusiasm.”

He adds that Carton House is targeting both the business and leisure markets. Travelling was an important status symbol in India, so holding a conference abroad reflected positively on a company.

Paula Cogan, director of sales and marketing at the River Lee Hotel in Cork, sees huge business opportunities in China. Cork is already twinned with Shanghai while UCC – which is beside the River Lee Hotel – runs the Institute of Chinese Studies.

Ms Cogan was in China with Tourism Ireland last year and will be back. The hotel saw a 150 per cent increase in its business from China last year, albeit from a very small base, and would be happy with the same increase this year, she says.

When Chinese guests are staying, the hotel makes a special effort to make them feel at home. It adds miso soup to its breakfast buffet and ensures that their rooms contain extras such as toothpaste and toothbrushes, dressing gowns and slippers as well as little gifts to reflect the Asian tendency for gift-giving.

“China is a very exciting place,” Ms Cogan says.

“When you see the number of people there it’s unbelievable. If we could get a tiny piece of that in Ireland, it would be phenomenal.”

Target markets: Asian tourists in demand

LONDON OLYMPICS

Freelance journalists attending the Olympic Games in London will be targeted by Tourism Ireland and encouraged to visit Ireland before or after the games.

“There will be a large number of unaccredited media in London, so we are trying to get 200 of them to visit Ireland, particularly those from Asia,” says Niall Gibbons of Tourism Ireland.

The agency is liaising with corporate groups. Large firms will invite thousands of guests to the Olympics, and the agency is encouraging them to add Ireland to their itineraries.

CHINA

Population:1.35 billion.

Numbers travelling abroad last year:70 million.

Numbers expected to travel abroad in 2020:100 million.

Numbers travelling to Ireland in 2011: 10,000.

INDIA

Population:1.16 billion

Numbers travelling abroad last year:13 million

Numbers expected to travel abroad in 2020:50 million

Numbers travelling to Ireland in 2011: 15,000.

7.4m

The number of visitors to island of Ireland last year.

5.5%

Tourism Ireland target for visitor numbers increase this year.