Tourism Ireland walks on the wild side with ambitious visitor targets

‘Wild Atlantic Way’ route will be the major focus of agency’s marketing activity in 2014

The Wild Atlantic Way: a “rugged”, “unspoiled” touring route from the Inishowen Peninsula to Kinsale, being promoted as “the road trip of a lifetime”. Photograph: Slow Images/Getty

The Wild Atlantic Way: a “rugged”, “unspoiled” touring route from the Inishowen Peninsula to Kinsale, being promoted as “the road trip of a lifetime”. Photograph: Slow Images/Getty

 

It is “wild, rugged, unspoiled” and 2,400km long. Tourism Ireland’s hottest property in 2014 is not a sporting fixture or cultural festival – although both types of events feature on its calendar – but a stretch of coast from the Inishowen Peninsula in Co Donegal to Kinsale, Co Cork, that it is billing as “the road trip of a lifetime”.

An advertisement for the “Wild Atlantic Way” showcasing the “raw beauty” of the western seaboard is running in 300 German cinemas this month and will feature on German and French television and in French cinemas in January. The touring route was also promoted to about 100 influential Chinese travel agents earlier this year.

“This is the wild, magnificent Ireland of your dreams,” the English version of the advertisement asserts.

Tourism Ireland, addressing more than 600 owners and managers of tourism businesses in Dublin yesterday, has been buoyed by the 2013 of its dreams. Visitor numbers are estimated to have increased 7.2 per cent this year to 8 million, with spending up 6 per cent to €3.64 billion.

This included a record 1.1 million visitors from North America, where Tourism Ireland launched the “Jump Into Ireland” sales blitz and heavily promoted The Gathering to tour operators. A 26 per cent increase in air capacity from the US and Canada facilitated the growth.

Visitors from Germany, France, Spain and long-haul markets, particularly Australia, have also reached record highs this year, while even tourist custom from Britain, which had been sluggish due to difficult economic conditions, has recovered.

In 2014, the all-island tourism marketing agency is targeting a 4 per cent increase in visitors and an 8 per cent rise in revenue. It will concentrate its resources on triggering the “must go now” impulses of holidaymakers from North America and mainland Europe. “I think that is ambitious, but I do think it can be done,” said Minister for Tourism Leo Varadkar, addressing the event.

“2013 has been a very good year for tourism, but I don’t think it’s the high watermark,” he said. He acknowledged that domestic tourism had been flat, but pointed to a recent upturn in consumer confidence as a sign of better things to come.

The Wild Atlantic Way project, which received €8 million in funding in Budget 2014, would be “an additional focus” for Tourism Ireland, Mr Varadkar said. The east of the country would not be forgotten, he added, citing “pull factors” such as the Grande Partenza (Big Start) to the Giro d’Italia cycling race, which takes place between Belfast and Dublin in May, and August’s Croke Park Classic, in which two US college football teams – University of Central Florida and Penn State – will line out on behalf of Irish tourism.

Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland, received a round of applause from industry representatives after he highlighted the media coverage his agency had garnered for its “Global Greening” project, in which world landmarks including the Sydney Opera House and Cape Town’s Table Mountain were lit green for St Patrick’s Day. The Global Greening will take place again next year.

“Brand Ireland is in very good shape,” Mr Gibbons said.