Business Irish

Friday 28 April 2017

Staycations and European and US markets key to a successful 2017 for the tourist industry

Noel-John McLoughlin, marketing director of Fáilte Ireland, talks to John McGee about the challenges of boosting visits

Noel-John McLoughlin, Fáilte Ireland marketing director. Photo: David Conachy
Noel-John McLoughlin, Fáilte Ireland marketing director. Photo: David Conachy

John McGee

With a record number of tourists visiting Ireland in 2016 and the number of domestic staycations on the increase, Fáilte Ireland, the State organisation responsible for promoting and supporting the development of tourism in Ireland, is hoping 2017 will be an even better year, according to its marketing director Noel-John McLoughlin

With responsibility for marketing and communications strategy for its newer brands, experience brands like the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland's Ancient East, and Dublin, he heads up a team responsible for the full marketing mix. This includes consumer advertising, media planning, digital marketing, brand proposition development, and consumer engagement, as well as social and PR.

How would you describe the domestic market for tourism and what's driving it?

"Domestic tourism is the bedrock of tourism in this country contributing close to 50pc of trips taken and almost 30pc of revenue.

It's in a really healthy place at present evidenced by continuous year-on-year growth. Our experience brands Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland's Ancient East, and Dublin have been a significant contributor to this growth and have been extensively adopted by industry on the ground. These will be the key drivers of sustained tourism growth in Ireland and provide the focus for all our investment strategy, marketing, sales, and training efforts for the long term."

From a marketing perspective, what are Fáilte Ireland's key objectives?

"Our domestic marketing objectives are threefold. We want to encourage more Irish people to take short breaks in Ireland. We want to develop a longer season by driving a greater frequency of short breaks in the shoulder seasons of late spring and early autumn, allowing many businesses to trade longer in the year. Finally we want to achieve a greater dispersal of visitors around the country by encouraging Irish people to consider new holiday destinations in Ireland."

"Our overseas marketing objective is very simple. Although our experience brands are performing very well for us, they are in their infancy in terms of overseas awareness. These brands were developed to position Ireland overseas in a more distinctive way. Our objective is to build equity in these brands to motivate visitors to holiday in Ireland."

From a personal perspective, what are your own challenges?

"I challenge myself and my team to ensure a return from our marketing investment so that all our work contributes to our key strategic pillars of driving visitor volume, visitor revenue, and sustainable employment in the tourism industry."

Given the importance of the British market to the industry, what are the implications of Brexit?

"The British market is set to be challenging in the near future, particularly given the weakening of sterling.

Indeed, in the third quarter of 2016, our own research indicated that 'value for' ratings amongst British visitors dipped by eight percentage points. As a significant source of visitor volume, we will still target the British visitor but tourism businesses overly reliant on that market should seek to diversify their trade.

"In terms of upside, there is further growth in access capacity anticipated from Europe and North America this season and there is great potential to grow further in those markets. It makes business sense: Americans and Europeans stay longer and spend more per capita. Europeans, particularly those in the eurozone, are not subject to the vagaries of currency fluctuations and, thankfully, seem to really like what we have to offer in terms of visitor experiences and brands."

What is Fáilte Ireland's assessment of the shortage of hotels in the Dublin region? Is the city facing a crisis?

"The city faces a capacity challenge over the next two years.

"Between 2010 and 2015, tourist arrivals to Dublin grew by 33pc yet the stock of available accommodation actually fell by 6pc. As a result, Dublin will face an ongoing shortage of visitor accommodation right through 2017 and into 2018 even though there are a number of hotels in the pipeline. This shortfall could limit the potential for tourism growth in the longer term and threaten the city's competitiveness as a visitor destination. Supply will eventually improve with the right environment but, if we lose our competitive edge in the meantime, demand could well soften."

How does the industry remain competitive in the face of stiff competition from overseas destinations?

"We regularly survey sentiment amongst industry across all sub-sectors. The broad outlook for 2017 is positive despite reservations about the possible effects of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, with most in the industry forecasting another strong year.

"We are committed to building our brands and supporting them on the ground with capital investment in tourism infrastructure, festival programme support, grants and marketing campaigns. Industry needs to continue to adopt the brands and utilise the resources we provide in terms of training, business development, sales platforms, revenue management, and research and marketing. We must not stand still and take any of our success for granted but rather adopt an attitude built on continuous improvement, agility and an unwavering customer focus."

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