Irish delegation on a mission to attract more Chinese tourists

Number of Chinese visitors reached 45,000 in 2015, says Tourism Ireland’s Niall Gibbons

Crowds at the St Patrick’s Festival Parade in Dublin. A delegation of 15 companies will visit Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong as part of a sales mission to tap China’s rapidly expanding outbound tourism market. Photograph: Alan Betson

Crowds at the St Patrick’s Festival Parade in Dublin. A delegation of 15 companies will visit Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong as part of a sales mission to tap China’s rapidly expanding outbound tourism market. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The head of Tourism Ireland has stressed the need for a direct flight into Ireland from China to support strong growth in the numbers of Chinese tourists, which looks likely to beat a targeted 50,000 this year.

According to chief executive Niall Gibbons, the number of Chinese visitors to Ireland was up 18 per cent, to 45,000, in 2015.

“We were hoping to hit 50,000 by 2017, and I’m glad to say that we’re very likely to do that in 2016,” Mr Gibbons told members of the tourism industry at an Irish Embassy reception in Beijing.

Mr Gibbons is leading a delegation of 15 Irish companies to Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong as part of a 2016 sales mission to tap the rapidly expanding outbound tourism market.

“A direct flight into Ireland from China is absolutely essential,” said Mr Gibbons, “and we hope to see that be beneficial in the short-term, not the medium term.”

Accompanying him on the mission was Jon Woolf, senior vice-president of aviation business development at Dublin Airport. Mr Woolf was holding talks with Chinese aviation officials.

For three years now there have been growing calls for a direct route to either Beijing or Shanghai. Currently travellers to Ireland have to stop over in the Emirates or in Europe.

As of yet, a Chinese carrier has not signed up to fly the route, particularly as the US market continues to expand at a heady rate for Chinese routes.

Providing easy access to tourist visas was critical in terms of getting to Ireland, especially as Ireland competes with the Schengen Zone of 25 countries that offer unparalleled access to Chinese visitors, Mr Gibbons said.

A big breakthrough in 2014 was the British Irish Visa Scheme, in which Chinese visitors can use a single-visit visa to visit both the UK and Ireland.

“We have to let the Chinese visitors know how will this scheme works,” he said, “and we know that applications are up 10 per cent this year. We feel we can do much better and make it as easy as possible for people to get into Ireland.”

China is the world’s largest outbound travel market, with some 120 million people travelling overseas last year.

Growth at Guinness

Fiona Herald

“This year it’s double-digit growth year to date,” she said. “We’re finding a lot of that is coming through travel trade. We have Dublin-based Chinese guides and in retail and catering, directly related to growth in the market from China.

“They absolutely love Guinness,” Ms Herald said. “Their favourite dish in the restaurant in the Storehouse is beef and Guinness stew.”

Titanic is still one of the biggest box-office hits in China. Assumpta O’Neill, sales executive at Titanic Belfast, said travel operators are all familiar with the passion of the Titanic story.

“Titanic Belfast is more focused on how Belfast built the Titanic and it’s a good opportunity for us to get the story out there that it was built there and drive home that connection,” she said.

There were 9,500 Chinese visitors to Titanic Belfast last year, an increase of 28 per cent.