27 FEB 2018: Canada now ranks among the top 10 tourist markets for the Emerald Isle, and has record-high visitor numbers to back it up. Last year over 200,000 Canadian travellers experienced the friendly hospitality, rich history, strong heritage and majestic natural landmarks that make Ireland a world-renowned top European tourism destination.  

That is a 12 percent growth over 2016 and means an additional 27,000 clients have descended on the land that lately has propelled blockbuster film locations from Star Wars: The Last Jedi with riveting scenes filmed along Ireland's wild Atlantic coast, to the mysterious settings that define the Game of Thrones saga filmed in Northern Ireland.

Bragging Rights

Then there are the other bragging rights. Prehistoric Newgrange is older than the pyramids. Lonely Planet has voted Belfast and the Causeway Coast as "The Best in Travel" in 2018. Meanwhile the Titanic Belfast Centre ranks as the worlds' leading tourist attraction beating stiff competition such as the London Eye and the Eiffel Tower at the World Travel Awards, and, Donegal in Northern Ireland is the coolest place on the planet according to National Geographic Traveller.

It helps that Ireland is easier to get to than ever before, with more connectivity across Canada served by carriers such as Air Canada Rouge, Aer Lingus, Air Transat, ASL Airlines, and WestJet.

But, Tourism Ireland which is the national tourism marketing agency, is not resting on its laurels and is ready to welcome even more Canadians this summer.

"The Canadian market is becoming an increasingly important market for us," says the Republic of Ireland's new Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Brendan Griffin, who spoke to Travel Industry Today in Toronto last week.

"We take massive pride in bringing people to our country and showcasing our country. We've broken all records in terms of overall overseas visits to Ireland," he said.

Summer Demand

The Tourism Minister later announced at the Tourism Ireland Groups Workshop Seminar held at the Old Mill to a full-house of agents that more seats will be added in the summer peak season with the debut of two new Air Canada routes starting in June: Toronto-Shannon and Montreal-Dublin. The result: 8,000 additional seats will be available from Ireland to Canada among the network of airline providers.

"We are on the last leg of a busy Canadian trade mission to ensure your business can prosper and grow as well," said Griffin who assumed the portfolio last June and was the special guest at a four city trade show mission. Tourism Ireland conducted workshops in Kelowna, Victoria, Vancouver and Toronto with additional trade workshops planned in the fall for Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax.

"The travel trade is an important distribution channel for us," noted Alison Metcalfe, Head of North America at Tourism Ireland, regarding the investment toward these workshops as well as the other travel trade programmes such as the Ireland specialist programme, FAM trips, content for social channels among other tools. More than one third of Canadians who travel to Ireland book through the travel trade.

Unique Experiences

Dana Welch, manager for Tourism Ireland Canada, highlighted some of Ireland's unique selling points like the ancestry connection, festivals and events that happen 365 days a year such as the upcoming St. Patrick's Day.

"Canadians like to get in the car and drive," she said. Among the popular drives are the Causeway Coastal from Belfast to Derry-Londonerry; the Wild Atlantic Way, a stunning 2,500 km stretch of coastline; and the Ancient East Coast that encompasses 5,000 of European history.

With new seasonal non-stop summer routes announced by Air Canada, agents can anticipate selling the iconic Wild Atlantic Way on the west coast which has easier access from Shannon as well as off-the-beaten path itineraries outside Dublin with the new air services.

Government investment

In 2011 Ireland scrapped the airport tax, making it more economical for airlines to land and speaking to the current government's position, Griffin said, "We intend to keep that scrapped."

In addition, the rate of the VAT tax has been reduced to 9 percent. "It's something that we feel helps us to remain competitive," he said on this other government commitment toward tourism-related activities.

Ireland is tourism-dependent with 1 in 10 people employed in the sector. "We know that all the work everyone is doing in this room is having a profound impact in Ireland and as minister I want to thank you personally," Griffin said to the agents. The Minister, who hails from County Kerry, described this idyllic area as the home fires of Ireland's tourism, the DNA where tourism all began with its notable Ring of Kerry, the Lakes of Killarney, and Skellig Michael among its top experiences that have left even its earliest visitors like Queen Victoria gobsmacked.

He said, "I come from a family dependent on the tourism industry," and added that due to his father's steady employment in tourism for nearly 40 years he and his three brothers were able to start a life and seek their own career dreams without leaving Ireland unlike earlier generations who left the country out of necessity.

Irish-Canadian Ties

While the Irish-Canadian connection runs deep, with Irish immigrants arriving to Canada during the Irish Famine in the 1840-50s among other turbulent times, the results of close Irish ties in Canada are apparent. "One out of every five Canadians have claimed Irish heritage," he said on the strong blood ties due to centuries of Irish immigration to Canada.

The Canadian Traveller

Metcalfe told Travel Industry Today that Canadian travellers to Ireland are "Culturally Curious," a branding term used to describe Tourism Ireland's primary consumer audience.

"In Canada (Culturally Curious) is someone very much interested in history, scenery and heritage scratching below the surface looking to learn experiences," she said, further noting the market is defined more by experiences and passion points and not age-specific. "Just because you turn 50 doesn't mean you suddenly want to stop doing the things you did before, like golf, hiking or biking."

On the success of Tourism Ireland's efforts in bolstering the Canadian market Griffin said, "Without the support of government investing in international marketing, we would not have grown at the rate that we have done."

Throughout the evening event which included an Irish dinner and performances, Irish travel and tourism partners provided updates on new developments aimed at the group and consumer travel market.




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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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