Irish campaign to catch Londoners' eyes

Sat, Mar 13, 2010, 00:00

In an effort to entice British people to visit Ireland, a new advertising initiative draws on the appeal of Ronan Keating, Seamus Heaney and Three Men in a Boat

A MAJOR EFFORT by Tourism Ireland to reverse sharply falling tourist numbers from Britain, hit by the recession and by sterling’s fall against the euro, is to take place in London and other major British cities around the St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

The iconic London Eye near the Houses of Parliament will be turned “green” for St Patrick’s Day – one of a number of international buildings, including the Sydney Opera House, the Empire State Building and the CN Tower in Toronto, while Tourism Ireland has also linked up with the Riverdanceproduction currently on tour in the UK.

In 2007, there were 5 million visits by British people to Ireland, North and South, though this number dropped dramatically to 3.8 million last year. However, at 24 per cent, the fall is less than the drop in visits by British people to other destinations.

“We held market share, but that is no consolation,” Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons tells The Irish Times. “The British market is fundamental to us. Value is key to us, since British people are likely to stay at home again this year.”

Following extensive research, Tourism Ireland is strongly pushing Ireland’s cultural heritage in advertisements and promotions, with Nobel poetry laureate Seamus Heaney addressing the Stanza poetry festival in Edinburgh, while the tourism body is also involved with Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and the World Irish Dance Championships, which are being held in Glasgow – where dancer Michael Flatley first came to prominence.

Tourism Ireland is hoping for increased British tourist numbers on the backs of several highly viewed television programmes in Britain in the past few months, including the two-part Three Men in a Boatin Ireland, featuring Irish comedian Dara Ó Briain with Griff Rhys-Jones and Rory McGrath, along with a Paul Merton Ireland special and a feature on BBC1’s Countryfile.

In all, the TV coverage is estimated to have been worth nearly €33 million in advertising. Next week, Tourism Ireland will spend €1 million in Britain, continental Europe, North America and Australia, as well as the new and developing markets such as China, India and South Africa.

“There will be saturation coverage of the island of Ireland across the airwaves, in newspapers and across digital media. We aim to bring a smile to the world. The message is that there has never been a better time to visit the island of Ireland,” says Gibbons, adding that Tourism Ireland will spend €26 million in the first six months of the year on marketing and advertising.

Boyzone star Ronan Keating has been closely involved with Tourism Ireland for months on London’s Magic FM station, which this week is offering listeners trips to Ireland to attend one of the singer’s concerts.

Setting targets for the coming year, Gibbons says Tourism Ireland aims to increase foreign tourist numbers by 3 per cent, approximately 230,000 visitors. on the back of falls in recent years. “This outcome will mean that tourism to the island of Ireland will grow ahead of the competition.

“Our global website,, received a record 13 million visits in 2009, which is most encouraging and illustrates a continued strong interest in the island of Ireland, despite the challenging environment. We aim to convert that interest into sales in 2010,” he says.

The drop in British tourist numbers last year was the main explanation for the cut of nearly 1 million visitors to Ireland last year. In all, there were 911,500 fewer overseas trips to Ireland compared with 2008. In 2009, 6,927,500 trips were made to Ireland from overseas, the lowest since 2005.

Set up in 2002, Tourism Ireland is an all-island body and promotes Northern Ireland as well as the Republic. It has carried out promotions targeted on Northern Ireland in several major British cities in recent months.