Groups key to Northern Ireland's success

NEW YORK -- More than six out of 10 of Northern Ireland's best prospects (62.7%) said they are likely to use an agent when taking an international vacation, and group travelers are the most loyal agency clients, a study for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board here found.

Menlo Consulting Group of Palo Alto, Calif., conducted the December 1999 survey, which found that from a sample of the "best prospects for Northern Ireland," 37.2% said they were "extremely likely" and 25.5% said they were "very likely" to use an agent when taking an international vacation or pleasure trip.

"Group travelers are much more likely to turn to travel agents for assistance than are independent travelers," said Heather Hardwick, Menlo Consulting Group research manager.

Among travelers in the Northern Ireland market who generally prefer to travel as part of a group, 56.1% are extremely likely to use a travel agent, compared with 31.2% among respondents who generally prefer to travel independently.

CIE Tours International of Cedar Knolls, N.J., has a department of eight that works exclusively on the company's group business.

Brian Stack, the firm's president, said the company will bring more than 250 groups to Ireland this year, with an average size of 35.

"The big way for agents to earn a lot of money is to book groups," Stack said, "because around the corner from every travel agency in America is a group that wants to go to Ireland, and it's just up to them to find them."

Declan O'Brien, president of New York-based Destination Ireland and Great Britain, said 50% of his firm's business comes from travel agents; groups account for approximately 30% of his business.

Speaking of group business, the matriarch or patriarch of an Irish family can be a very valuable customer for an agency.

"We do a lot of family groups," O'Brien said, "where we have a matriarch or patriarch who decides to bring a lot of their family back to Ireland. It's not unusual for us to have a group of 25 or 30 traveling back. We feel that's a growth area, family group travel, and Ireland as a destination is well suited to it.

"The more affluent groups will stay at a castle for a week," O'Brien said. "Other times, we'll give them a driver guide, luxury coach and they'll stay at two or three locations for four nights.

"Sometimes a family group may be from a certain area," he added, "and we'll spend a lot of time visiting the area they hail from."

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