'Green Gym' image working out for the Irish economy
Forget the 'Emerald Isle' - these days, tourism chiefs are referring to Ireland as 'the Green Gym'.
Thanks to the explosion in sporting events, sport tourism is now outstripping 'traditional' tourism at a rate of three-to-one - and reaping millions of euro for local economies.
When bookings opened for the Ring of Kerry cycle, the event was sold out in four hours and the website crashed. The cycle event is expected to bring around 20,000 people into the area. Meanwhile, some 13,000 people will take part in the Great Limerick Run this weekend - making it the biggest weekend of the year for the city.
The Tour de Conamara will see the population of Clifden potentially triple on May 23, with 2,000 participants and at least as many supporters gathering for the cycle event, bringing the locality a massive cash injection.
And it is only the beginning.
Ireland can become an international playground for sport tourism and quadruple its current revenue from the sector over the next 10 years, according to the organisers of a new Sport Tourism Awards.
The inaugural Shannon Group European Sport Tourism Awards will be held in Limerick on May 14, as part of the two-day European Sport Tourism Summit in the city.
There are 13 award categories, ranging from European, National and Regional Sport Tourism Event Of The Year to the Irish Independent-sponsored Event Sponsorship of the Year award.
Awards organiser Mark O'Connell said Ireland had the capacity to be a "world leader" in sport tourism.
"Sport tourism is the fastest-growing sector in tourism," he said.
"It's currently expanding globally at a rate of around 14pc annually, compared to the 5pc average in the wider tourism sector since 2010. That's a massive opportunity for Ireland, as we have huge potential as a sport tourism destination," he said.
Scott Graham of Triathlon Ireland estimated that their 10,000 members accounted for some 26,500 hotel room nights each year. "And that's pretty conservative," he added.
Ireland now has the world's third-highest participation rate in triathlons, he revealed. He added that it was a growing sport, particularly among women.
Alex Connolly, head of communications at Fáilte Ireland, said sporting events, as well as bringing people into the country, further helped by raising the profile of Ireland as a destination.
"We see sporting events the same as festivals in terms of benefits to the economy," he said. "It's also great that there is an explosion in people getting out there into the 'Green Gym' and being healthy."
Irish Independent Sport Star Awards
Pick our magic sports moment of the year and win a trip for two to London. To view the shortlist and cast your vote click here.