Ireland: Northern Ireland Travel Promoted

Agents whose Ireland-bound clients aren't planning to visit Northern Ireland may want to recommend that they include the six-county province in their itineraries, says Eddie Monaghan, manager of O'Connor's Fairways Travel in New York.

"We try to encourage people to get up there as often as possible, to include the North then come down South. There's a lot of beautiful scenery up there," says Monaghan, whose 36-year-old, full-service agency specializes in Ireland. The agency receives a lot of requests for the North, and not just from clients who are visiting friends and relatives, Monaghan says.

At Carlson Wagonlit Travel/Village Plaza in Dearborn, Mich., owner Linda Rex concentrates on the southwest region of the republic for her FIT and group golf itineraries, but she does get requests to play the courses at the North's two internationally renowned golf clubs --the Royal Portrush Golf Club on the Antrim Coast and the Royal County Down Golf Club in Newcastle. "I have some interesting itineraries sitting on my desk right now that include the North and the South," Rex says.

Whatever part of Ireland golfing clients are headed for, Rex recommends that agents work through a quality tour operator "because they have the good tee times. You need to deal with somebody that's experienced and knows the courses and that can help you with the distances, with how long it's going to take to get everywhere, so you can fit in your sightseeing and your golf. [Ireland] looks small, but there's so much to see, and golf takes up half the day."

Monaghan says that occasionally a client who's never been to Northern Ireland will express concern about the safety of travel there. But, he adds, "people ask a lot more questions about the scenery and activities in the North of Ireland."

Retailers who are unfamiliar with the six counties of Northern Ireland will find the Northern Ireland Tourist Board a good source of help, says Monaghan, whose firm is also an air consolidator for all of Ireland. "The Northern Ireland Tourist Board does a fantastic job in sending out information. For all questions, the tourist board is very good."

Jim Kelly, who owns Crystal Travel & Tours with two offices in the Boston area, says that Ireland is 60% of his business. One reason is an extensive advertising campaign on TV, in the Boston Globe and on local radio stations.

But equally important for this heavily ethnic market, says Kelly, is his affiliation with a lot of Irish clubs throughout New England, to which Kelly offers a variety of discounts.

The agency is also a consolidator with British Airways and many clients fly through the "back door" to Ireland via London to Dublin, Shannon, Cork or Belfast. This, says Kelly, can mean savings.

"I have found cable television to be quite effective" as an advertising medium, says Kelly. "I have friends who live in Fairfield, Conn., who can pick up the Boston stations. And I get a good rate package that includes some popular shows as well as some less-watched shows that are on after midnight."

Kelly says he is always looking for ways to save money for clients. "I've saved $200 a person for a group of 80 coming out of West Palm Beach because of the feed into Newark with the new service on Continental to Ireland."

Another area of growth, says Kelly, is golf. "I had a group of six men who rented a barge on the River Shannon and played on courses along the river. As a result of that, I've booked 20 golfers for a combination river cruise and golfing. That's typical of getting good ideas from clients themselves."

"Off-season is a good time to get great deals for clients," says Eamonn Long of Long's Travel in Cedar Knolls, N.J. "For instance, some of the very upscale castle hotels are quite affordable in winter. Also, you can play golf all year round."

Like Kelly, Long sees golf as an incredible boom area with golfing clients "just coming in the door." Long's agency handles church groups as well. "We will go into a parish and do a presentation. We have also had fam trips for priests."

Long produces a great deal of direct mail in winter with a variety of promotional offers to potential clients. "One important thing for agents to remember regarding potential clients," says Long, "is that they may have misimpressions about Ireland. I always stress that this is a very modern country with food that is among the best in Europe."

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