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Tourism chiefs target newly affluent Chinese and Indians

EIGHT years after Riverdance caused a sensation in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Irish tourism chiefs are hoping to exploit that high regard for Celtic culture among the newly affluent and travel-savvy Chinese.

With a combined population of more than 2.3 billion, China and India have the potential to massively boost the tourism industry -- now regarded as central plank of Ireland's economic recovery.

Tourism Ireland has intensified its campaign to entice visitors from the new and developing markets, which consist of Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Africa, China, India and the Middle East.

Billions could be at stake over the next few years because these countries will be the fastest growing tourism markets for Europe over the next decade and a major factor is that tourists from these countries stay twice as long as the average holidaymaker and spend the most -- on average €782 per visit.

A key attraction is culture. But shopping as well as coastal scenery and historic architecture also appeal to the Chinese tourist.

The same tourism assets also appeal to India with it population of 1.03 billion and golf is a big growth sport among the newly affluent in both countries.

Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland, said that offices the agency has set up in Mumbai in India and Shanghai and Beijing in China are helping to promote brand Ireland.

Of the two million Chinese tourists who visited Europe last year, less than 10,000 came to Ireland.

"If you look back 40 years at the profile of Irish tourism, 80 per cent would have come from the UK. Now that figure is reduced because Irish tourism has broken into mainland Europe and the US and gradually we have been working our way into new and emerging markets," he told the Sunday Independent.

In India, about two per cent of the population have the money to travel overseas -- but that still equates to 20 million people.

"We are trying to boost recognition of Ireland as a tourism destination," said Mr Gibbons, and tourist chiefs will also be targeting the Cricket World Cup in India later this year.

Fine Gael, through party spokesman Jimmy Deenihan, said Ireland is not getting as many visitors from India and China as the UK because of differences in visa regimes.

"We have been engaged in a dialogue with the Department of Justice on visas. The processing time for a visa for Chinese and Indian citizens is now at five days, which is faster than in the UK," said Mr Gibbons.

Sunday Independent