Travel Weekly's Ireland E-Letter: Oct. 16, 2003 October 16, 2003 Share 1 -- NEW IRISH DIGS: Select Hotels of Ireland, a Limerick-based group of 13 luxury Irish properties, is setting its sights on the U.S. market for the first time in its three-year history. To help acquaint U.S. agents with its Ireland-wide offerings, Select--which to date has focused on the domestic Irish market--teamed with operator SMI Tours Ireland, of Dedham, Mass., which will feature the group's hotel portfolio in its 2004 brochure. Select Hotels director Patricia Coughlan said the group had intended to market to Americans from the beginning, but postponed active promotion after the post-9/11 travel downturn. Now, the time is ripe, particularly since U.S. guests already account for as much as 40% of its clientele at some of its better-known properties, including the Renvyle House Hotel in Connemara, Co. Galway. "The feedback from U.S. agents has been an eye-opener," said Coughlan. "Many already know some properties very well, and can therefore trust in our standards."MEANWHILE, SELECT HOTELS--with four-star-quality "European-style" properties in Belfast, Donegal, Dublin, Galway, Connemara, Killarney, Kilkenny, Laois, Westport, Bettystown Beach, Waterford and Wexford--"is trying to provide agents a one-stop shop" for quality Ireland-wide vacations, she added. The group pays retailers negotiated commissions, starting at a base rate of 10%. For more information or to book, visit www.selecthotelsireland.com, e-mail email@example.com or call (011) 353-6 144-0440; or, contact SMI Tours Ireland [formerly Siobhan Moore's Ireland] at (800) 499-1899 or at www.smireland.com.BELFAST ONLINE...AGAIN: The Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau in the Northern Ireland capital upgraded its online presence Wednesday with a revamped Web site at www.gotobelfast.com. According to the BVCB, the site is now "more visual, informative and interactive, and easier to navigate." A new content-management system also gives the organization the ability to update or change online content within seconds. That will keep "site visitors informed and always up to date," said a spokesperson.MORE GREENS ON SCENE: Luxury property Dromoland Castle, in Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co. Clare, is spending a lot of green to better its greens. The 100-room, 375-acre palatial resort is investing some $5.75 million in a new golf course that staff claim will be "like no other" in Ireland. Set to open in April, the championship course--designed by Ron Kirby and J.B. Carr--runs for more than 6,850 yards, through the woodlands and around the lakes of the 16th century property. Greens fees will be about $115 for day visitors, $98 for hotel guests and $70 for golf-club members' guests. Advanced reservations are being taken at (800) 346-7007 and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.dromoland.ie.TAXING, TRAINING: Irish tourism minister John O'Donoghue Monday promised a group of Kerry hoteliers that he'd press the government for a freeze on VAT rates in the newest budget, according to Dublin newspaper the Irish Independent. Hoteliers have asked for a drop in VAT to 10%, down from the current 13.5%, claiming Ireland's rate on accommodations is twice that of Spain and the fourth-highest in the European Union.IN OTHER GOVERNMENT NEWS, meanwhile, Irish tourism body Failte Ireland opened a $1.6 million training center in Cork. The center will provide courses in cookery, food and beverage and bar operations to as many as 250 locals in the greater Cork/Kerry region each year, boosting training capacity by 20%. Failte Ireland CEO Shaun Quinn said the new center is integral to tourism development in Ireland's southwest, home to 18% of all Irish hospitality workers. "So much of the Irish tourism experience is inextricably linked with the attitude and aptitude of the people working within it," Quinn said. For more information, visit www.failteireland.ie.