Welcome to our world


CREATIVE THINKING:We’re known – or have been known – for our hospitality and fondness for conversation. Here’s a civic-spirited scheme to help us woo some more visitors, writes TREVOR WHITE

ONE NIGHT LAST summer I met a friend for a pint in the Swan Lounge on Aungier Street. There was a young man from Australia beside us, and we soon fell into conversation. He had just arrived in Dublin from Egypt, where he was working as a gold-miner. When we asked him why he’d come to Ireland, the Australian replied without hesitation: “Because I heard the people are really friendly.” At that moment I felt both proud and slightly embarrassed. This country has a reputation as a place where strangers are welcomed, but it’s also true that the Celtic Tiger made Dublin a more urgent city, with little time for old-fashioned courtesy.

What now? Can we really claim that Ireland is still the land of a thousand welcomes? Or is that just ancient drivel? The young Australian didn’t know anyone in Dublin, nor did he have any concrete plans. So we bought him a pint, welcomed him to the city and offered a vaguely informed review of local attractions. At the end of our conversation he thanked us warmly for the advice, and when we left it was in the knowledge that we had been useful. That’s a good feeling. How, I wondered, can we bottle it? At home that night I looked up the Tourism Ireland website, where a survey reveals that “friendly, hospitable people” are the reason why 91 per cent of visitors come to this country. (Only “beautiful scenery” is cited by more visitors.) In other words, you and I are the reason why nine out of every 10 tourists come to Ireland.

If people come here to meet us, what are we doing to justify their decision? We do care about all this, in a nebulous sort of way: we are proud of living in a place where the people are a tourist attraction. But other than offering over-elaborate directions to puzzled foreigners, most of us rarely do anything about it.

That night I could hardly sleep. Wouldn’t it be great, I kept thinking, if visitors could have a drink and a chat with a friendly local as soon as they arrive? Better still, what if they didn’t have to pay for the drink? What if Dublin became the only place in the world where anyone could expect such a welcome?

The result of that meeting is a new civic initiative called City of a Thousand Welcomes. With the help of partners in Fáilte Ireland, Dublin City Council and Dublin Regional Authority, we have created and tested a service in which Dubliners volunteer to become ambassadors for their city. When the service becomes fully operational in June of this year, we’ll pair tourists with Dubliners who have similar interests. They will meet in our offices on St Stephen’s Green and go for a complimentary cup of tea or a drink in one of three places that are renowned for exceptional hospitality: the Porterhouse Bar, Bewley’s Café or the Merrion Hotel.

The website for the project goes live today, and we hope that within the next three months up to a thousand volunteers will offer to welcome a tourist to the city. At least, that is what our research suggests. Frankly I don’t know how many people will sign up. Furthermore, I expect that some commentators (the same wags who sneered at Dublin Bikes) will have a good whinge about the whole idea. But those are risks that are worth incurring. Why? Because the potential result is really quite exciting.

City of a Thousand Welcomes is a non-profit venture. It won’t cost the earth to implement, and if it takes off, the tourist industry will have a powerful new pitch – come to a city where the locals are literally queuing up to welcome visitors.

We’re celebrating Dublin as a place where tourists receive a warm welcome, and where culture extends to good conversation. We are doing this for the benefit of visitors, of course, but also to re-invigorate Irish hospitality and encourage civic pride at a time when our identity has taken a bit of a bashing.

If you’re a Dubliner, this is where you come in. After all, only you can make this project a success. Will you give us a hand? The application procedure involves an online questionnaire and a short quiz. You don’t need to be an expert on James Joyce or anything like that, just a proud citizen. In due course we’ll arrange to meet with you and set you up as an ambassador, ready to make good on our international reputation. Then we’ll send you out to represent Dublin to the world.

By the way, did I mention the free drink?

* To become a Dublin ambassador, see cityofathousandwelcomes.com