Success of Dublin St Patrick’s Festival means funding must continue
By building a magnificent festival in Dublin, the whole St Patrick’s Day brand is enhanced
Olympic medallist Annalise Murphy: Grand Marshall of the St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson
The four-day St Patrick’s Festival last weekend is expected to have generated record tourist spending and attracted over 100,000 overseas visitors to Dublin (almost half of them for the first time); a valuable launch pad for the 2017 tourist season. Investment in this festival provides a cornerstone for the St Patrick’s Day brand that has been so well exploited by Tourism Ireland throughout the world in recent years.
No other country has ever made such an impact with a positive piece of communication, raising the awareness of the country and engaging with tens of millions of potential visitors. A crucial element of this unique national brand is the St Patrick’s Festival in the capital, and its iconic 3km parade. St Patrick’s parade organisers across the globe, from Kansas to Korea, from Chicago to Croatia, look to the hugely successful Dublin pageant for inspiration.
The festival costs less than €2 million and is directly responsible for generating revenue of €73 million in foreign tourist spending (over €50 million in Dublin alone). Visitors in recent years have extended their stay (now an average of almost nine nights), and many use their arrival in Dublin as an entry point for a trip to other parts of the island.
But the payback on that investment goes beyond the revenue generated during these few days by hotels, bars and restaurants in Dublin and other regions. The benefit of presenting a world-class festival and parade in the capital extends to underpinning the global St Patrick’s Day activity and the overall Irish reputational brand. It’s crucially important that the standard of this parade and the extended festival continues to improve, exceeding the expectations of the visitors and local participants.
The capital’s parade attracts an almost unmanageable 500,000 who stand along the streets, such is its extraordinary popularity. It risks becoming a victim of its own success. The organisers took innovative steps this year to enhance the experience; investing in additional enormous TV screens along the roads and extending the length of the route, now continuing on past Christ Church Cathedral and on to Kevin Street. Impressively, over half of the parade attendees participate in another festival event, such as the funfairs and the céili. The parade is watched by almost 500,000 TV viewers, and the festival website can claim 1.4 million views.
Creativity and theatre
The natural home for the world’s best St Patrick’s Day parade is Dublin, setting a standard of creativity and theatre, of pomp and ceremony for the other parades throughout Ireland and hundreds of parades around the globe. By doing this in Ireland’s capital, the festival organisers and funders set a high benchmark to which the others can aspire.
The awareness and image of Dublin as a city destination, and Ireland as a country, needs to be managed and, like all brands, requires investment. Some have questioned the rationale for investing in the St Patrick’s Festival, with its Dublin centric focus, and indeed investing at all in Dublin as a tourist destination, at a time when hotel occupancy is unusually high and costs appear to be inflating. I would suggest that not investing in Dublin, with the ongoing benefits at this time, would be extraordinarily shortsighted and would forego a great opportunity to establish robust and sustainable demand not only for the capital but the whole country.
The economic impact of having a strong Dublin offering is real and substantial, both for businesses in the city and throughout the country. By managing the strength of this brand, by investing in its image and the substance of the visitor experience, thousands of jobs can be created and further investment in facilities and attractions can be logically funded.
Research has confirmed that potential visitors have had a false impression and weak image of the city. In the past few years, there has been investment to change that perception, ensuring the visitor experience is enhanced, with some world-class attractions such as the Guinness Storehouse, the Little Museum of Dublin, the recently opened Epic emigration museum at CHQ and the upcoming Ulysses Centre on St Stephens Green.
Recent consumer research among the target visitor groups in the UK has confirmed that this approach is working. Dublin can, with consistent investment, compete well with other city destinations.
The importance of the St Patrick’s Festival can be seen in this wider context of enhancing that visitor experience, with a higher profile than the city’s other annual festivals. By investing in this week, the funders (Fáilte Ireland, Dublin City Council, sponsors and partners) have helped create something very special: generating substantial profits and creating jobs at the start of the tourist season, and strengthening our nation’s reputation.
By building a genuinely magnificent St Patrick’s Festival in Dublin, the whole St Patrick’s Day brand is enhanced, having a grand global impact. By investing in Dublin and its attractions, a much more certain level of demand can be established.
Following last weekend, a review process will consider what worked best and identify the aspects that deserve even greater investment, to make further changes that will build on the success of this year’s festival.
Michael Carey is chairman of the Grow Dublin Tourism Advisory Board.