With the recent launch of Tourism Ireland, the job of promoting the whole island is one of the sweeter fruits of the Belfast Agreement. In an exclusive interview with Caterer, chief executive Paul O'Toole talks about the organisation's plans to David Tarpey.
People. Place. Pace. That's why people visit the Emerald Isle, according to research by Tourism Ireland, the new all-Ireland marketing body set up to promote the island as one. The English also go for stag weekends in Dublin, but in general, whether they hail from Lombardy, Paris, or Stockholm, most visitors are looking for a combination of the three Ps.
And so with catch phrases such as "Memories. Not souvenirs", The Island of Memories marketing campaign from Tourism Ireland kicks off with a basic marketing budget of a76m (£47m) over the next three years.
Officially launched in November, Tourism Ireland was created as a result of the Belfast Agreement of Good Friday 1998, which provides for the setting-up of all-Ireland structures such as this. It is the extension of a joint marketing arrangement that has existed between the Irish tourist board, Bord Fáilte, and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) for several years. Funded by both the Irish government and the Northern Ireland Executive, Tourism Ireland will promote the island of Ireland to an external audience.
Tourism Ireland's chief executive Paul O'Toole says: "The 2002 marketing campaign will be the biggest in the country's history. It will have the overall title of The Island of Memories and will reflect Ireland not just as a contemporary European country, but one which is hugely respectful of its culture and traditions and the warmth of welcome for its visitors."
One of the major challenges facing O'Toole is getting visitors into the country in the first place. The effects of 11 September mean that Ireland faces a potential drop of 25% in airline seat capacity because of reduced services from Aer Lingus as well as Delta Continental (see below).
"It's worrying," says O'Toole, "but we are in discussions with all the ferry companies and there is a lot of unused capacity on sea routes from Scotland down to Wales. We are also hopeful that the proposed budget airline terminal for Dublin airport will get the go-ahead. That could be a great boost."
O'Toole accepts, however, that marketing alone cannot dispel some of the negative images the European public might have of Northern Ireland. He believes the best branding the country can have, if the progress over the past few years continues, is peace across all 32 counties.
"The real challenge is to support Northern Ireland and help it realise its tourism potential as well as increase visitor numbers to the whole of Ireland," O'Toole says. "It will be especially important to make sure that a lot more than just 4% of visitors come to both North and South on the same visit."
For now, Tourism Ireland is concentrating on the UK, its most important market by far as it makes up 60% of visitors to Ireland. In particular, it will focus its efforts on London and the South-east.
"We will have to work on getting Ireland into the shop window," says O'Toole. "We're not a mass tourism destination but a niche one, and so it's vital that we properly target the various segments likely to come here."
With the feared 25% reduction of capacity in airline seats to Ireland, its national carrier, Aer Lingus, says it has developed a restructuring plan designed to meet the changed environment in the business and aviation sectors. This includes a cut of more than 30% in staffing levels.
Its aim is to become leaner and fitter and to avoid the fate of other European flagship carriers such as Sabena and Swissair.
Since 11 September, the company has concentrated its marketing efforts on its main markets in the UK, Continental Europe and the USA. The aim has been to reboot confidence in flying and in Ireland as a destination for those who do fly.
It says it is keen to work with Tourism Ireland at every opportunity.
Harcourt Centre, Block 3, Harcourt Road, Dublin 2, Ireland
Tel: 00 3531 418 2208
Chief executive: Paul O'Toole
Chairman: Andrew Coppel
Alastair Good, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation:
"Confidence among our members during 2001 has been hit badly because of foot-and-mouth and the attacks in the USA. We urge Tourism Ireland to make the best tactical use of resources to protect the Ireland brand abroad. We have asked them to take the time to research which of our markets are likely to offer the best opportunities. For instance, the USA might well stand still for the first half of the year whatever we do. So it might call for a different approach until Americans are more prepared to travel again."
Pat McGann, chief executive of the Dublin-based Jurys-Doyle group, Ireland's biggest hotel chain with 17 properties, including one in Belfast:
"We welcome it. The peace dividend has changed everything and means that people are now totally relaxed about visiting all parts of the country. Initial concern was that there might have been a vacuum after Bord Fáilte and the NITB passed over their overseas marketing efforts. But this didn't happen. Tourism Ireland's marketing programme focuses heavily on the UK and Continental European markets but I am keen that it doesn't abandon the Americans because that is a slow market to build up."
Mary Fitzgerald, president of the Irish Hotels Federation:
"O'Toole will lead the devising of an all-Ireland approach to positioning the country as an attractive destination, harnessing expertise and resources both in the North and the South. This will project a progressive Irish image of confidence abroad."