Year of the Dragon may breathe fire into tourism

Mon, Jan 23, 2012, 00:00

THE YEAR of the Dragon is expected to coincide with an upsurge in Chinese visitor numbers to Ireland.

However, judging by the huge numbers who turned out to mark their new year yesterday, they have already arrived.

The Year of the Dragon was counted in with great fanfare at 4pm yesterday to coincide with midnight in China at a packed Dublin’s Temple Bar Market Square.

The dragon is the king of the animal kingdom and represents power, appropriately given China’s continuing economic and politic resurgence.

The easing of visa restrictions, with a British visa now qualifying for Chinese people to visit Ireland, and the opening of new routes with Emirates Airways into China has made Ireland an easier destination to get to.

It is estimated that 58 million Chinese people will travel abroad this year, and a number of Irish businesses hope to capitalise on the upsurge in visitor numbers, especially with the Olympics this summer.

The Dublin Hilton in Charlemont Place has launched a huanying(welcome) programme for Chinese visitors. It will include displays of oranges and tangerines, symbolic of wealth and good luck, in hotel lobbies and traditional Chinese new year gifts.

“It is not just the richest Chinese people who are starting to travel, it is those who are on the second and third salary levels,” said Hilton Dublin general manager Erwin Verhoog.

Separately, the designer outlet Kildare Village will host the Chinese ambassador Luo Linquan next weekend for a Chinese new year celebration.

Kildare Village, which sponsored the Chinese opera in Temple Bar Market Square on Saturday night, is hoping to appeal to more well-heeled Chinese shoppers to visit its designer outlets in a similar manner as its sister outlet, Bicester in Oxfordshire, which attracts 4,500 coach loads of Chinese tourists every year.

Mr Linquan launched the Chinese new year yesterday by saying goodbye to the Year of the Monkey and hello to the Year of the Dragon. The dragon symbolised “wisdom, courage and power” in Chinese culture, he told the crowd.

He reflected on the twinning of Dublin with Beijing, two cities of different sizes but with a lot to learn from each other.

The Temple Bar dragon, which nearly didn’t make it from Hong Kong, was decked out in Irish Tricolour colours.

The celebrations were accompanied by dancing from Chinese children born in Ireland who are part of the Chinese-Ireland Cultural Academy.

Dancer Katey Wong (16) from Bray, Co Wicklow, said: “I look forward to the [Chinese] new year more than the actual new year in January. It is a celebration that lasts a whole week.”