Sunday 17 December 2017

Non-British visitors vital post-Brexit - tourist chief

Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland Photo: Naoise Culhane
Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland Photo: Naoise Culhane
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

Visitors from the Middle East and further afield will play an increasingly important role in Ireland's tourism sector in a post-Brexit world, Tourism Ireland CEO Niall Gibbons has told the Irish Independent.

His comments come as figures yesterday from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show that weak sterling is continuing to pummel visitor numbers from Britain to Ireland.

There were 796,000 visits to Ireland from Britain between January and March, 6.5pc lower than the 851,000 that was recorded in the first quarter of 2016.

Sterling is currently worth about 15pc less against the euro than it was prior to last June's historic vote that will see Britain leave the EU in two years' time.

Conversely, the dollar has strengthened against the euro, boosting the affordability of holidays to Ireland from the United States.

The CSO figures show that in the first quarter of 2017, 293,000 visits were made to Ireland from North America. That was 55,000, or 23pc more than in the first three months of 2016.

Mr Gibbons was speaking this week as Qatar Airways inaugurated its service between Dublin and Doha, completing the triumvirate of the big Middle East carriers serving the capital. Etihad and Emirates already fly from Dublin, to Abu Dhabi and Dubai respectively.

"It gives us great connectivity into long-haul markets - the likes of Australia and China, and making it easier to get to Ireland from those locations," he said. "There are now more than 10,000 seats a week available between Ireland and the Gulf.

"We're working on joint campaigns with Qatar and those markets at the moment, and have a press trip coming into Ireland with journalists from those markets during July," he said.

"Whatever a post-Brexit world looks like, this is going to be a more important part of it."

Mr Gibbons said that Tourism Ireland has been working since 2014 on diversifying Ireland's visitor base.

"Last year, 1.2 billion people took trips around the world, spending about $1.5trn. We'd like to increase our share of that," he said, noting that Tourism Ireland recently held its first-ever press trip of journalists from Hong Kong.

"We were out in China last month on our annual sales mission. We have a mission going out to the UAE and India in September."

Tourism Ireland has also been working closely with parties including Dublin and Cork Airports operator DAA to establish a direct service between Dublin and Bejing.

It's likely that an initial Ireland-China service by Hainan will initially incorporate a stopover in Edinburgh.

CSO figures show that almost 9.6 million overseas visits to Ireland were made last year, 11pc more than in 2015.

Of those, 3.9 million were from Britain and 1.8 million from North America. There were 1.7 million from mainland Europe.

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