'Gathering' hopes to attract thousands of tourists
TOURISM chiefs insist they can get an extra 325,000 visitors into the country through a cut-price marketing drive aimed at getting people to invite family and friends over in 2013.
Failte Ireland said the initiative dubbed 'The Gathering' could generate €220m for the economy and create 2,000 jobs, despite the failure of a similar Scottish scheme to attract anything like those numbers.
The tourism agency said that 'Homecoming Scotland 2009' -- which attracted 100,000 people -- had a more narrow focus based on clans and a couple of big events, rather than the multiple local initiatives they were trying to encourage.
The year-long event did, however, prove a financial success, despite coinciding with global recession -- generating more than €60m of additional tourism revenue and €180m worth of positive global media coverage.
Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar said he planned to invite his family in India and worldwide for a reunion in Ireland in 2013 and hoped that many other families would do likewise.
Organisers of 'The Gathering' will encourage sports clubs and local communities to hold hundreds of small-scale events to boost tourism numbers.
Speaking at the Global Economic Forum in Dublin, Mr Varadkar said people were always asking him what they could do to aid economic recovery. He cited the 2013 Heineken Cup final in Dublin as an example, saying that rugby clubs could invite overseas teams to come over for a game around that time.
Failte Ireland insisted its target of attracting 325,000 extra visitors was conservative rather than fanciful, as already two out of every five tourists came because of a family or friendship connection, and the increase would only represent 0.5pc of the 70 million Irish diaspora.
They are aiming to get a 10pc boost in ethnic Irish visitors, a 7pc increase in those with an interest in the country and a 5pc jump in business and conference visits linked to this marketing drive.
"There are a lot of people with Irish connections or a fondness for Ireland who have a vague plan to get here some time -- we want to light a fire under them and get them here in 2013," said Failte Ireland chief executive Shaun Quinn.
Mr Varadkar said the budget for the scheme would be fairly modest at €12m-€16m, much of this coming out of existing marketing funds which he hoped to supplement.
The key would be encouraging people to create small local events as spin-offs around existing set-pieces such as the St Patrick's festival or the Galway Races -- and these could range from family reunions to genealogy-linked events where communities invited emigres back.
Failte Ireland and Tourism Ireland experts will implement the plan, and there will be a strong emphasis on using social media.