Business

Sunday 24 February 2019

A Mice little earner as Ireland lures multi-million conferences

Business travel

The Convention Centre in Dublin is key to accessing a worldwide multi-billion euro industry
The Convention Centre in Dublin is key to accessing a worldwide multi-billion euro industry

Mark Evans

With the global meetings, incentives, conferences and events (Mice) industry predicted to be worth just shy of €1,100bn by 2023, Ireland has her eye on a slice of that lucrative pie.

Mice is a growing sector, still dominated by Europe, with a 42pc market share in the events space, and it's one area where there could be a Brexit dividend for this country.

While Failte Ireland is normally making headlines due to rising inbound tourism numbers, the corporate market is where the big money, per capita, can be found. Business travellers are worth roughly €1,600 each to the economy ­­- three times more than leisure visitors - and Failte Ireland figures show this segment alone was worth €760m to the overall economy last year.

"In the month of January we've confirmed €28m worth of business," said Ciara Gallagher, manager of the Meet in Ireland unit, who worked on attracting overseas visitors with The Gathering event in 2013. "We've a target of €180m so we're 15pc of the way there."

That record €28m figure comprises 57 conferences, from key science gatherings to leisure events including the CrossFit Challenge and World Ballroom Championships. The market has been boosted in recent years, said Gallagher, due to the construction of the Dublin Convention Centre, allowing Ireland to pitch for bigger events.

And Brexit could be a bonus for our European, but English-speaking, well-connected island. "We're winning more business as a result of it," said Gallagher. "We target buyers generally in the GB market as they are responsible for placing business on behalf of global entities."

There is particular opportunity in attracting associations which hold conferences in different cities each year: "If they're European associations they want to go to a European destination, so GB is actually losing out on that business. That's more for us to target."

Ireland is attractive - particularly in the US - in the incentive sector, with Kerry the big draw, said Gallagher. And it's an area that's lucrative for the high-end hotels and hospitality sector

"More and more big corporates want to reward their top sales people and bring them on an all- expenses-paid trip, and Ireland is on everyone's bucket list in the US."

Despite our strong air links to the US in particular, she admitted that old stereotypes die hard: "The expectation is that we do not have good food," but added that post-trip research among conference-goers shows that they're "blown away" by what's actually on offer. "That's not getting out there," she conceded about the country's food offering.

Bleisure (business travel mixed with leisure) is on the rise among business travellers - especially millennials - around one in three delegates brings a spouse, partner or family member to this country. Meet in Ireland is typically targeting delegates a year in advance, and supporting the event organisers in how they market Ireland.

With cities worldwide vying for the trade, Ireland brings in key decision-makers to pitch our unique product.

"We showcase what we've got to offer and we tend to win 75-80pc of all site inspections," said Gallagher. "Once we get them in here we can seal the deal." It's a business that's not just dominated by Dublin - with Cork, Killarney, Shannon and Galway each boasting regional convention bureaus that, partnering with Meet in Ireland, are winning around €32m worth of business a year, almost double 2015's figure.

With the ending of UAE visa restrictions last year, inbound visitor numbers from that region have grown by 63.5pc. And there's lobbying now with government on "expediting visas, particularly for people attending conferences," Gallagher revealed. A first sales mission to India targeted the market there, while 32 businesses, including hotels and restaurants, are now certified China Ready to cater for visitors given our direct links to Beijing and Hong Kong, and with Dublin-Shenzen starting next month.

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Aer Lingus' Dublin-Hartford service will be served by its new next-generation Airbus A321LR aircraft, starting from July 1. The long-range single-aisle aircraft, 14 of which are on order, will feature 16 fully-flat business class seats.

The aircraft will likely continue on, after arrival in Dublin, to key European cities such as London, Paris, Amsterdam and Barcelona as short-haul business class returns to the carrier.

It's a long-heralded move to ensure continuity of service for onward travellers from America's insurance capital in Connecticut, to be followed by A321s operating to and from Minneapolis and Montreal this year alone.

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