Pól Ó Conghaile: Can the ceád míle fáilte translate for Chinese visitors?
There will be 200 million outbound Chinese tourists by 2020. But it Ireland ready to welcome its share?
Ni hao. It's Chinese for 'hello', and it's a growing buzzword in Irish tourism.
Why? Well, China is one of the world's fastest growing outbound travel markets, with numbers predicted to grow to 200 million by 2020.
Curious as to how this might affect Ireland, and how Irish businesses can best welcome these visitors, I spoke to James Kenny, Tourism Ireland's Country Manager for China (below). Starting can be as simple as ni hao, he told me.
"They are really moved when someone on a little island 9,000km away takes the trouble to learn a few phrases".
That sense of perspective is key. Ireland is the centre of our universe, but many Chinese haven't even heard of it. Those who have often think in terms of enchanting landscapes, castles and quaint towns, or movie and TV links like Titanic, Game of Thrones and Star Wars. Those who visit tend to do so as part of UK & Ireland tours.
Those visits are rising, however.
In 2017, up to 90,000 Chinese came to Ireland, aided by new direct flights from Beijing and Hong Kong. Tourism Ireland is working to diversify from a dependence on British visitors, and efforts in China range from the St Patrick's Day Global Greening to helping bring its popular Morning Call programme (above) to Ireland.
The results were seen by 300 million viewers.
Many Chinese travel with coach tours, James says. But the Holy Grail is its growing number of small groups and independent travellers - who are more likely to fly direct, visit single destinations, stay longer and spend more (shopping is a key driver). If Ireland can peel off more of these lucrative travellers from the UK, that's a win.
The next question... are we ready?
Having a few words of Chinese or signage at Dublin Airport is one thing. But did you know Chinese travellers like to have water boilers where they stay? That they prefer mobile payments like AliPay and WeChat Pay over cash? Or that they may not delight in bacon, sausages and eggs for breakfast?
"Chinese aren't too mad about the whole Full Irish every day for a week," James tells me. "They're used to dishes like congee, with selections of things like peanuts or chilli to add in. It's like porridge for us."
To address the culture gap, Fáilte Ireland has a 'China Ready' programme that has already been completed by businesses ranging from Limerick's Strand Hotel to the Guinness Storehouse. Others, like Brown Thomas and Kildare Village, have had Chinese-speaking staff and services like AliPay for years.
By 2025, Chinese visitors could number 175,000 a year. Can we translate the ceád míle fáilte into a special huanying (welcome) by then?
Read more:New flights announced from Dublin to Beijing