Irish Tourist Board Eyes Stronger Relationship With Agents

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SHANNON, Ireland -- The Irish Tourist Board (ITB) is aiming for a closer relationship with agents in an extensive effort to relaunch Ireland as a destination, according to John Murray, president of CIE Tours and the head of the Irish Tour Operators Forum.

Murray addressed 300 agents at a Superfam here, an annual gathering of U.S. and Irish travel trade professionals that was initiated by leading U.S.-based Irish tour operators to familiarize agents with the potential of Ireland as a tourist destination.

The Superfam featured tours of the western and southern regions of the country as well as an educational seminar that included a preview of the new ad campaign.

"We're sending agents back as Irish missionaries," Murray said. "We want people to know and experience Ireland so they can truly sell it."

Sonja Leicht, president of Exclusive Travel, in Sheboygan, Wis., said when she tells clients that she has been to Ireland twice (both times on fam trips), "they show a greater interest in traveling there, knowing that I've been to Ireland and am educated about it."

Leicht participated in Superfam tours of the southwestern region of the country and the coastline, which she said enlightened her about the different tour possibilities on the Emerald Isle.

Leicht said she would like to organize a coastal towns tour of the southwest, featuring Kinsale, a picturesque seaside village directly south of Cork that she visited on the fam.

"I'm from a sailing community where people love the water. This type of trip would be a great way to inspire them to go to Ireland," she said.

Although fams are very successful, they are just one way the ITB will reach out to agents, Murray said.

"We also will work with top cities in the U.S. to spread the word [about Ireland] and find out from agents how best to support them."

An example of this effort is ITB's nationwide Marketing Ireland program, which features 42 travel seminars with Irish and U.S. suppliers, and ends this month.

The informal workshops with representatives from hotels, airlines, resorts and tourist attractions are complemented by individual exhibits by Ireland's tourism suppliers.

The travel trade workshops coincide with the launch of a consumer marketing campaign in the U.S. and abroad.

The tourism campaign, which features colorful images of people sailing, cycling and enjoying the natural beauty of the country, aims to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about Ireland, while attracting a younger market.

According to the ITB, the typical American visitor to Ireland is age 45 or older, one of a couple and in a white-collar profession.

Carol Boocock, owner of Personalized Travel in Wexford, Pa., said she already is seeing a trend of younger travelers in their late 20s opting to visit Ireland due to the lower cost of international travel.

Boocock said she has seen a 20% to 25% increase in her Ireland business overall, which consists mostly of air packages that include ground transportation in southern Ireland.

According to the ITB, U.S. tourism to Ireland grew by 12% in 1996, on top of a 23% expansion the previous year.

Heather Andrews, group travel coordinator at the AAA Travel Agency in Portland, Maine, said she has not witnessed an increase in business to Ireland in her set market, generally 50- to 60-year-old retirees but believes the new ad campaign will bring an influx of business to Ireland.

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