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Tourism Ireland: Showcasing Varied Niches for the GCC Traveller


Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland

Tourism Ireland has witnessed consistent growth to the country. As per recent statistics, the last year after six years of consecutive growth, was a record year with 10.3 million overseas visitors. This figure was almost a million more than in 2015, resulting in a nine percent increase. This growth was also evident from the Middle East region with more visitors looking to explore Ireland each year, for either leisure, business or study. The number for the region is estimated between 65,000 – 75,000 GCC travellers in 2016, representing an increase regionally of about eight percent. A breakdown of the numbers suggest that approximately 65% of those visitors were from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), followed by 33% from Saudi Arabia, and just a tiny fraction coming from anywhere else in the GCC.

With a growing interest in the country, the tourism authority – Tourism Ireland – which is the main body that markets the island of Ireland to the rest of the world has put the spotlight on the GCC region. As Gibbons explains: “The GCC region is an important developing market for Ireland and its growth in the tourism sector. Not only are more visitors than ever travelling from the Middle East to Ireland, but they are spending more too. Ireland’s biggest market for inbound travel is the United Kingdom, but with the uncertainty of Brexit and fluctuations in the pound, it is increasingly important for Ireland to diversify the mix of travellers that it attracts.”

Tourism Niche

A strategic tourism plan was put in place based on conversation the tourism authority officials had with tourists visiting the country. “Many of the people who we speak to who visit Ireland from the Middle East suggest it is a place for all the family. The importance of spending time with close relatives fits incredibly well with the Irish culture,” adds Gibbons.

Similarly, the tourism authority has also recognised that Middle Eastern travellers are attracted to places where famous films and television programmes have been located. Game of Thrones, the latest set of Star Wars films and scenes from Harry Potter have all been shot on location in Ireland. Horse racing is another leisure pursuit that brings in tourists from this region, with even His Highness Sheikh Mohammed, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, a regular visitor to the racecourses in Ireland. Having analysed these trends, every aspect of Ireland is highlighted right from history and heritage, to the natural countryside and the coastlines to attract visitors from the Middle East.

The facets of the destination will be promoted through a number of initiatives which will help build relationships with the travel trade in the region. Tourism Ireland conducted its annual Sales Mission with workshops in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The workshops witnessed participation from a dozen companies who flew in from Ireland, including hotels, tour providers, ferry companies, and tourist attraction operators. The companies shared their knowledge with regional experts which also included face-to-face interaction and events. The next initiative by the team at Tourism Ireland was development of a specially designed web portal that trains travel trade about Ireland as a holiday destination. The ‘Ireland Specialist’ has six modules to complete for achievement which includes: About Ireland, Places to Go, Things to Do, Places to Stay, Events and What’s New?.

Once these modules have been completed, an individual becomes a certified Ireland Specialist. By ensuring that travel trade in the region become experts in Ireland, it helps to promote what is on offer and ensure amazing parts of Ireland are shared by people who are knowledgeable and engaged with the country.

Charting the Course

The Tourism Authority has ensured that the right practices have been implemented which has been a key factor in influencing growth in visitor numbers from the GCC. In addition, the island of Ireland is also well connected with direct access in recent years. There are currently two airlines operating direct flights from the UAE to Ireland – Emirates Airlines and Etihad Airways – both offering double daily direct flights to Dublin. With increased access and potential advances in Ireland’s visa policy for nationals from the region, strong growth from the region is anticipated in 2018.

Moving ahead Ireland’s Government also has a plan in place to double Ireland’s global footprint by 2025. It is the Government’s intention to deepen relationships between many countries, including the UAE by attracting greater investment in Ireland, boosting tourism and trade, building stronger links with our diaspora and increasing cultural exchange.