Travel Weekly's Ireland E-letter: Jan. 1, 2004 January 01, 2004 Share 1 -- TIME IS NOW: Sceptre Ireland now offers agents "real time," online bookings of air, car, accommodations or any combination of the three at net rates -- with commissions retailers determine themselves thanks to customized "mark-up technology." Sceptre's air, auto and hotel options include: U.S. departures to Shannon or Dublin on a choice of six airlines; standard or automatic car rentals; 1,800-plus bed & breakfasts and more than 350 hotels in addition to luxury castles, condos, townhouses and cottages. For more, visit www.sceptreireland.com or www.sceptreagent.com. UP WITH AMERICA: Ireland saw some 6% growth in North American arrivals in 2003, according to Ireland's tourism minister, John O'Donoghue, helping the country nearly achieve the record overall visitor numbers of 2000. "A key element of this story has been the restoration of key access routes and capacity from the U.S.," he said in a Dec. 30 end-of-year statement. "I am particularly pleased that the North American market appears to have turned the corner." Overall, overseas arrivals grew by 4%, to 6 million visitors; O'Donoghue has set a further target of 4.4% more growth in arrivals for 2004. For more, visit www.arts-sport-tourism.gov.ie.B&B ABC's: Ireland's family-run bed-and-breakfast establishments remain a top pick with international visitors. Two marketing bodies, operated by host families themselves, coordinate market development and travel trade relations. Irish Farm Holidays represents 350 farm homes, while the Town & Country Homes Association markets more than 1,600 homes in urban areas and non-farm homes in rural locations. Both organizations offer special brochures, pre-paid accommodations vouchers, e-mail or Internet bookings, and other features for travel agents and tour operators. For more, visit www.townandcountry.ie and www.irishfarmholidays.com.ATHBHLIAIN FAOI MHAISE DUIT: We wish a prosperous New Year to all our Ireland E-Letter readers.