Irish tourism chiefs try to cash in on Olympics great escape
I'M sure you can remember the scenes of jubilation in Trafalgar Square when it was announced in July 2005 that London had pipped Paris to host this year's Olympic extravaganza.
The world would be moving to the banks of the Thames and thousands celebrated the news from Singapore where the decision was taken.
But with just weeks to go to the start of the Games, millions of Londoners are planning to get out of town fearing transport chaos.
To be fair, it's a very British reaction -- safety first, don't want to be caught in an unnecessary traffic jam.
A You/Gov poll last December found that a third of Londoners said they planned to leave the city during the Olympics, while employees have been advised to work from home and, apparently, one in five will take some unauthorised leave during the event.
Tourism Ireland spotted the obvious opportunity presented by the potential exodus.
Next Monday morning, Londoners using the Tube will be hit with in-station billboards telling them to "escape the madness" and grab a flight to Ireland.
Selling the country as a land of tranquillity and space, it is hoped commuters will see the advertisements and, to use Tourism Ireland's phrase, 'jump into Ireland' to avoid Olympic congestion.
Adverts will also appear in the free 'Evening Standard' newspaper, while online marketing will take place nearer to the start of the Games in a campaign that will cost Tourism Ireland €500,000.
Critics question the timing of the advertising run, saying that if families are planning to take their holidays during the Olympics then they would have made their arrangements by now.
But Sinead Grace of Tourism Ireland doesn't believe it has missed the boat with this campaign.
"With the tourism industry, the consensus would be that people are now leaving it later and later to book short breaks. We feel the timing of this campaign is just right."
Aer Lingus, too, is hoping to cater for the fleeing masses. The airline will place advertisements in the 'Evening Standard' offering flights at attractive rates, and
the company is also involved in the 'shared media plan' with Tourism Ireland.
Great Britain is the largest and most important market for tourism to the island of Ireland, delivering more than half of all overseas visitors. The 'escape the madness campaign' is part of Tourism Ireland's overall promotional effort to grow the number of British visitors by 5pc in 2012.
Travel chiefs are also hoping that tourists from afar will visit the country, with visas not required for nationals from outside the European Union during the Games.
But is the campaign a bit predictable and uninspiring?
True, images of sheep on an empty road are quaint but you could probably find a similar scene within an hour's drive of London.
And isn't it a bit unsettling to describe the Olympics and the buzz they will create in London as "madness"?
"The Olympics is a great sporting occasion but the eight million Londoners are going to have great difficulty," said Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Michael Ring.
"They are expecting thousands upon thousands of people. There will be 18 million extra journeys on the Tube and people going about their day-to-day lives are going to find it difficult for these few weeks," he added.
How many times have we been told that this is effectively a 'home Olympics' for Ireland also? Instead of advising Irish people to share in the occasion, we're telling anyone who will listen to get out of London or face a month of chaos.
And the lack of inter-activity with the 'thousands upon thousands' of tourists attending the Games is worrying. Effectively, the campaign is a series of adverts, but could Tourism Ireland have done more in terms of the hard sell and been a bit more imaginative?
Time will tell if the campaign has the desired effect and if the fishing net can catch the absconding shoal.