Tourism chiefs devising plan for The Gathering part 2 to reboot sector

Fáilte Ireland examining proposal to rerun 2013 event to boost tourism after Covid-19

A Gathering event in Millstreet, Co Cork in 2013.

A Gathering event in Millstreet, Co Cork in 2013.

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Fáilte Ireland, the State tourism authority, is developing a proposal for a rerun of the year-long Gathering series of events that rebooted tourism in 2013, as the sector warns revenues from overseas visitors may fall by 70 per cent.

The Gathering was a series of more than 5,000 tourism events nationwide in 2013. It was aimed at the global Irish diaspora to attract them here for a holiday, as tourism was identified as a vehicle to drag the economy out of recession. It brought in an estimated €170 million in 2013 and kicked off a seven-year expansion of the sector.

The idea may now be revived, possibly for next year or the year after. No decision has yet been taken, but Fáilte Ireland has already established a group to examine it and other ideas, and preliminary findings will be presented to Ministers in two weeks.

“While our focus is very much on the present to ensure as many businesses as possible in the tourism sector survive this crisis, we are also exploring ideas that will help the industry to recover as quickly as possible at the appropriate time,” said Paul Kelly, the agency’s chief executive. “One of these areas under consideration relates to The Gathering which took place in 2013.”

Industry leaders

The proposal was mentioned at the end of a conference call this week between industry leaders and Shane Ross, the Minister for Tourism, and Brendan Griffin, Minister of State for tourism. Also on the call were industry groups representing publicans, hoteliers, restaurateurs, coach and tour operators, and airports.

It was agreed that Fáilte Ireland and also Tourism Ireland, which markets the country abroad, would present ideas to Ministers on another call with the industry in two weeks time.

The proposal is being informally referred to as The Gathering part two, although it may not go on to use that name. In its recent election manifesto, Fine Gael proposed a Gathering-style event called The Year of the Invitation for 2023, the 10th anniversary of the original event.

The timing of any initiative is uncertain, with many industry leaders believing 2021 is too early to put plans in place and market it properly abroad.

Pat McCann, chief executive of Dalata Group, Ireland’s biggest hotel operator, said he would be supportive of rerunning a diaspora-focused initiative like The Gathering, but the timing must be right: “If you go out too soon on this it will waste money but if we get the timing right I think it could be very encouraging. A thing to remember is that Ireland will be seen as a safe country, as it always has, and that will be encouraging for visitors.”

Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (Itic) chief executive Eoghan O’Mara Walsh, said the idea is interesting but it “needs to be planned and developed fully before being launched”.

Itic will on Thursday give its members an estimate of potential losses this year, as the sector is savaged globally by Covid-19 shutdowns. Itic has calculated that last year’s €5.1 billion in revenues from overseas visitors could fall close to 70 per cent to €1.58 billion.

Assuming Covid-19 is brought under control soon, Itic estimates Irish tourism’s revenues from overseas visitors are down 60 per cent in the first quarter of the year, 85 per cent in Q2, 70 per cent in Q3, and 50 per cent in Q4.

“The Government will need to have a support package for Ireland’s tourism and hospitality industry in place for the rest of the year,” said Mr O’Mara Walsh. – Additional reporting by Ciarán Hancock