TOURISM Ireland has spent €3m on a new website that's been made in England -- including €500,000 for the domain name Ireland.com.
The tourist organisation defended the decision to award the lucrative contract to an English web design company, saying it was chosen after an EU-wide tender process.
This led to London company Hugo & Cat being chosen to design the new Ireland.com website. It had made the best offer on cost and technical grounds, said Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons.
"It's less than 10pc of our marketing budget. It's a big capital spend for one year that doesn't recur in future years," he said.
"In the context of an industry that's looking to generate €3.6bn this year, I think it's going to represent excellent value for money.
"We're competing against an awful lot of destinations and we have to stand out from the crowd."
While the domain name Ireland.com had been bought for €500,000, they calculated that this investment in an easy-to-remember name would pay for itself within three to four years, thanks to savings on marketing.
The site went live this month and will shortly replace the old discoverireland.com site, but visitor traffic is 15pc up on this time last year.
The site is simpler to use with, for example, just 17 links on its home page instead of over 70 found on the old site.
It has also been specifically designed for ease of use by the growing numbers of tablet computer users, and to promote social media connections.
This could dramatically increase its reach -- for example, last year's 12 million visitors could have potentially reached up to a billion people through their connections.
The site also focuses on directing visitors to commercial sites of hotels and other tourist businesses. It wants to capture bookings with prominent special offers tailored to tourists.
The site is available in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Dutch, with Brazilian, Arabic, Portugese, Arabic, Russian, Chinese and Japanese versions on the way.
A smartphone version will be rolled out this spring, and the site will be very visual, as strong images had been shown to be most effective in driving visitor numbers, said Tourism Ireland head of emarketing Brian Harte.